By TORIE ROTH
First Generation students are those who are the first in their family, besides siblings, to attend post-secondary education.
“We don’t limit it to their parents having taken classes in post-secondary,” said Shannon Glachan, project manager of the first-gen initiative at Conestoga College. “If they don’t possess a credential of any kind — diploma, degree or trade — the student is considered first generation. It was something that was touch and go with the ministry, but that is the final definition.”
The initiative is designed to help students and their families learn to overcome college pressures, navigate campus activities, adjust to college life and successfully complete their program.
All students face challenges during their journey through college, however, First Generation students are much more likely to encounter challenges such as having sufficient funds for tuition and living expenses, completing all requirements of the college process, discovering resources or services, juggling school, work and home responsibly and coping with all aspects of life including academic, social, emotional and financial.
In the past few months, First Generation students have been provided with bi-weekly bulletins that summarize the workshops for the upcoming weeks, and have one-on-one meetings with students to provide assistance and direction. They can help deal with a variety of issues.
“We support students in any way we can through their highs and lows of school,” said Glachan. “We offer volunteer opportunities — it looks good on a resume and gives students a chance to practise what they learn in the classroom.
The First Generation student advisory committee consists of students who volunteer to be the voice of the First Generation students at Conestoga.
“Being able to be involved empowered me. I knew I could help myself and help my fellow students,” said Janet Barrett, a second-year public relations student at Conestoga. “I’ve been on the advisory committee ever since my start here and I do PR- related things and talk to them about strategy.”
To apply, visit the Conestoga website and click on the First Generation tab under Student Services. Send your completed form to Shannon Glachan by email or in person. Her office is located in Room 2A103 in the Learning Commons. Everyone who submits an application will be accepted. The form is just procedure.
The First Generation office is now located in the Learning Commons. “I have an open door policy with no appointment necessary because I want it to be a friendly and welcoming environment for students,” said Glachan.
Forty per cent of students in the database did not identify as First Generation when completing their OCAS forms. Previously, the office was located a few doors down from the Learning Commons, behind two closed doors with no signage.
“The fact that the office is now located inside the Learning Commons, it is a better sense of community because a lot of the services that FG redirects a student to are located in this very centre,” Barret, said.
The project is available on every campus even though they do not have a physical presence; they visit all campuses especially for workshops related to First Generation students and can also make contact with any students from those campuses.
The First Generation office also administers a bursary for students who are full time during the 2011-2012 academic year, have financial need that exceeds the value of the bursary, meet OSAP defined citizenship and residency requirements, and provide a one-page essay outlining his or her experience of being the first in his or her family to participate in post-secondary studies and the challenges encountered.
Winners will be announced in early March and money will be distributed on March 16.
“Statistics out there say that FG students have a strong need for financial assistance, more than students who aren’t,” said Barret.
Thirty-four per cent of First Generation students in the database who are currently enrolled in studies are considered at risk of not completing their current program.
First Generation staff and students on the advisory committee want students to know that they are here to help, regardless of the issue they are facing as a First Generation student.