Contributed by the Creighton University Office of Communications and Marketing
At the academic convocation welcoming this year’s freshman class, Creighton University’s president, Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, S.J., singled out one segment of new students for special recognition. “I am pleased to say that 12% of this class are first-generation students, or the first in their families to attend college,” said Fr. Hendrickson. “Creighton recently received national recognition for our support of first-generation students.”
In March, Creighton was named a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation.
“Through the application process, it was evident that Creighton is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students, but is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population,” said Sarah Whitley, Ph.D., assistant vice president of the Center for First-generation Student Success.
The designation recognizes institutions of higher education that have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-generation college students. Selected institutions receive professional development, community-building experiences, and a first look at the Center’s research and resources.
“Creighton is devoted to the success of first-generation students,” said Mardell Wilson, Ed.D., Creighton’s provost. “And our innovative programming has provided a welcoming and supportive environment.”
Creighton’s support system includes scholarships and a network of student services and organizations. It includes a community of faculty, staff and alumni committed to meeting the everyday needs of each and every student throughout their Creighton journey. (This support system now extends to the Southwest. This semester, the newly opened Creighton Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix welcomed its first group of School of Medicine students, one in five of whom are first-generation.)
How does the University do this? A couple of concrete examples include the following:.
First-generation Forward Council: A University-wide working group singularly focused on the academic success, persistence, graduation and overall student development of all first-generation students at Creighton.
Creighton First Program: An initiative focused on improved recognition and awareness of first-generation students. This includes programmatic events and activities, new student orientation outreach, and a marketing campaign complete with a logo and swag for students.
Creighton First Communities: An opportunity for incoming first-generation students to meet both fellow incoming and current first-gen students, and be connected with first-gen faculty and staff. Each Creighton First Community consists of five to seven incoming students, a Creighton First Community peer leader, and a faculty/staff liaison.
Creighton First Community Leaders: Peer leaders who provide mentorship and plan activities for first-year, first-gen students.
Orientation Affinity Groups: Gatherings for first-gen students and families during Creighton’s new-student orientation programs.
“Everyone is very supportive at Creighton, but they also don’t treat you like you’re someone at a disadvantage because you’re first-generation,” said Alison Sundrup, a junior in Creighton’s Heider College of Business.
Sundrup was adopted from China and raised by a single mother. It means everything to her mom that she’s getting a great education. “As a first-generation student, I always strive to be better, because I know so many other people haven’t had the chance to go to college,” she said. “I pray that in the future, I can give back to students wishing to better their lives.”
Joe Ecklund, Ph.D., who oversees Creighton’s Educational Opportunity Programs, said that Creighton is committed to doing more for first-generation students. Ecklund is the co-chair of Creighton’s newly formed First-generation Forward Council. “With this council, we’re really exploring, ‘What does the social experience for first-generation students look like?’” he said. “What does the academic experience look like? What are the issues our students face? Over this academic year, you’re going to begin to see a lot more initiatives and energy focused on direct services, programs and activities dedicated to supporting first-generation students.”
One initiative is already underway — the Creighton First Community. The program connects incoming first-generation students with current first-generation students, offering a peer-to-peer support system. “Through this program, students will know who they can connect with on campus, someone who knows what they’re going through,” said Justin Stoeckle, assistant director for Transitions in Student Life and co-chair of the First-Generation Forward Council.
Stoeckle said that all aspects of the effort to support first-generation students at Creighton — the council, the programs, the coordination of resources — will be designed to provide a more holistic, organic approach. Not to tell the students what they need, but to ask them what they need. And then help provide it.
“Above all, there’s this yearning for a sense of community,” said Stoeckle. “For first-generation students, we want to cultivate a space where we can celebrate the fact that what these students are doing is wonderful, that Creighton is lucky to have them, and that we’re a better community for it.”