According to the Center for Inclusive Excellence, Gustavus has anywhere from 275 to 300 first-generation students on campus at any given time. Given this high percentage of students who have no familial background in higher education, it makes sense that Gustavus strives to offer educational resources for these students.
The resources for these students come from the First Forward Network, an initiative started under the Center for Inclusive Excellence.
“In efforts to create a more intentional and centralized effort to provide support, resources, and programming, the First Forward Network was initiated in the fall of the 2017-2018 year. The goal was to make sure that the programming, events or resources provided through this network address our community’s needs,” Tom Flunker, Director in the Center for Inclusive Excellence, said.
While the network’s main focus is on providing opportunities for first-generation students, the events and opportunities hosted by first forward are open to all students.
“First Forward is designed to serve as a network and resource for first-generation students and others. This network is not only during the transition to college; it also [extends] throughout the journey to graduation,” Senior Derga Selemona, a first generation college student, said.
The First Forward Network is still relatively new and took a lot of work to get started up.
“That first semester was spent interviewing first-generation students and staff to better understand the needs and experiences specifically at Gustavus. While this was taking place, we worked with Marketing to create dedicated sub-logos that could be used on various types of materials (physical, virtual, and print), to help our campus make a visible connection with the network,” Flunker said.
Now, the network works with various departments on campus to maximize the kinds of resources they can offer.
“We provide different sessions by collaborating with various departments, for example, CICE, the academic support center, the financial aid office, and others. These sessions give more information to first-generation students about study skills, time management, financial aid, stress relief and other things,” Selemon said.
While the First Forward Network only works with students already enrolled at Gustavus, Selemon noted that many students (including himself) were involved in a similar program in high school.
“They want to have the same experience they had before. So, we tried to give them more information about the college and what should they do to be successful when they are in college,” Selemon said.
This semester, the First Forward Network is offering numerous workshops to help all students be more successful in college. Earlier in the semester, the network offered sessions on technology, mindfulness and resiliency, communication skills, goal setting and how to beat procrastination.
On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Jess Franta will be presenting a session titled “Connecting and finding your fit: opportunities and techniques for growth (personal, educational, career)” and on Tuesday, Nov. 26 Jesus Hernandez Mejia will present a session on managing and understanding finances and scholarships.
Additionally Friday, Nov. 8 marks the national celebration of first-generation students and next semester the Network will be celebrating First Forward month in April.
Flunker also shared that when 2019 seniors were asked about their experiences with First Forward, they had two main things to say.
“First, there is no mention of First Forward or information for first-generation students during orientation and second, Gustavus does not have many of the common programs for first-generation college students such as upward bound, trio, ETS, etc., and First Forward is Gustavus’ version of these programs. If students are looking for resources that these common programs would normally provide, they should look to first forward for resources,” Flunker said.
While the Network is already offering numerous resources and events for students, it continues to grow and develop.
“While we are still working to help our campus become more aware of the First Forward, the network continues to grow in scope,” Flunker said.