Did you know that 1 in 5 students at U of T are the First in their Family to attend university? These students are children of parents who did not receive post-secondary education.
Over the past year, programs on all three U of T campuses were created to mentor, advise, and support first-generation students during their first two years at UofT: First in the Family (St. George), GenONE (UTM), and First-year Experience Program (UTSC). Students who self-identify as first-generation can register online and connect over the year with senior first-generation students as mentors, and learn about the resources available on campus.
The transition to University life can be especially challenging for first-generation students. As Rahul Bhat, Program Coordinator for First in the Family at St. George, has seen with his group, they are less likely to ask for help or feel they should ask for help because they have less intuition about where to find help when they need it. Attending office hours or asking a teaching assistant for advice is particularly intimidating. Roz Spafford, Learning Skills Counsellor with the Academic Success Centre, finds that “things that are like oxygen to people who’ve been around are mysterious to new people”.
Since these students are also more likely to live with family and support their household (by assisting with care of a relative or working part time to bring in income) the pressure from home can be intense. Parents are also often very supportive but uninformed about University life themselves, and so do not have an intuitive sense of how difficult it may be for their children to keep classes, studying, work and family life in balance.
What is most important about the program is it promotes the value of community-building through interaction with mentors, other students, and workshops on academic skills such as writing, studying, and time management, and learn about campus resources. The supports go a long way to transform an experience of feeling lost, confused, and anxious, into feeling of belonging, says Bhat.
How can faculty get involved? Make referrals, either in person or by mentioning the program during lecture. Bhat reports that last year, enrolment grew steadily as a few large courses learned about the program. “Mentees have great respect for their profs”, he says, and respond especially well to their professors who also identify as first-generation, seeing them as models of who they might become one day. First in the Family also invites faculty to attend panel discussions during the year, for student mentees to learn from their experiences.
Do you think your students would like to learn more about the programs available? Find more information online: