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Meet the Class of Fall 2019: First-generation students

September 23, 2019

Understanding the needs of first-generation students paramount at NIU

Students who are the first in their families to go to college are in good company at NIU.

More than half of the university’s undergraduates are first-generation students.

The characteristic is among several included in a Meet the Class Huskie Profile recently released by Dean of Students Kelly Wesener Michael. The report aims to help faculty and staff identify the specific needs of students, as well as their needs and resources available to them.

As part of the report, Wesener Michael encourages a growth mindset, the belief that intelligence can be developed through hard work and help when needed.

“First-generation students exhibit courage and determination by being here,” Wesener Michael said. “We can support them by understanding their connections to their family and culture, and that they may be balancing school with work and family obligations.”

Positive interactions with instructors and other students can only strengthen their success, she said.

Numerous resources at NIU aim to encourage first-generation students to get connected on campus and develop confidence that they belong here. The many faculty and staff at NIU who themselves were the first in their families to go to college, including Wesener Michael, are ready and willing to provide personal attention and guidance.

A bi-weekly support group for first-generation college students, Breaking Barriers connects students with one another and the information they need to succeed.

Other resources, such as First- and Second-Year Experience, Career Services, Campus Mentoring Programs, Financial Aid and Scholarship, the University Writing Center, Counseling and Consultation Services and more, also are valuable.

UNIV 101 provides a crash course in the many campus resources first-generation students can utilize, said Jeffrey Salmon, associate director for Military and Post Traditional Services. Military and Post Traditional Services partners with Counseling and Consultation Services, the Latino Resource Center and Undocumented Student Support to facilitate Breaking Barriers.

Navigating campus can be difficult for first-generation students, Salmon said, because they have questions others might ask of family members who’ve gone to college. For instance, they might not know they can utilize the NIU Student Health Center on campus, even as a commuter, he said.

“It’s important for us as a campus to welcome and support the significant population of first-generation students on this campus, and the best way to support them is to understand their needs and make them aware of all that is available to them through individual offices, academic departments and support services,” Salmon said.