History and Rationale
The First-Gen Institute was conceived by Prof. Rashné Jehangir and was supported by the CEHD Dean’s Office Big Idea Grant. The Institute launched in 2017 to critically engage scholar practitioners, graduate students and student affairs professionals to support an anti-deficit narrative of FG college students to and through college and post-graduate opportunities. The original goals were to:
- Increase awareness of FG students, their lived experience and the strengths they bring to the academy. Much of the literature and praxis on FG has often been deficit focused and we actively challenge this notion.
- Assess support systems and relationships that sustain persistence and identify gaps to support FG students across the college and campus.
- Determine strategies and engage in collaborative efforts to support FG students (undergrad and graduate) within CEHD and across campus.
- Establish connections between faculty, staff and students and bring visibility to FG faculty and staff in CEHD so students see representations of themselves in higher education.
The First-Gen Institute submitted a proposal on behalf of CEHD and was recognized in NASPA’s Inaugural Cohort of First-Gen Forward Institutions.
Spaces, Forums, and Initiatives
Between 2017 and present, the First Gen Institute and the Steering Committee guided spaces, created forums, and launched initiatives to support the aforementioned goals. These included:
- First-Gen Institute: Making an Institutional Commitment (November 2nd, 2018)
- A day-long conference aimed to empower participants to recognize and affirm the intersectional identities of FG students, examine the complex challenges and opportunities inherent to their experience, and explore practices that invite faculty and staff to take collective ownership of students who are the firsts in their families to go to college.
- Awarding ten Microgrants for grassroots first-gen-related initiatives on campus.
- created a FG-Institute website as a repository of conference session and materials as ongoing tools for learning and community collaboration.
- CEHD First Year Experience Program Common Book Event (Fall 2019)
- Panel discussion featuring first-gen alumni and staff.
- Data Dive: What Covid Context Tells Us about the First-generation Student Experience (November 13th, 2020)
- The CEHD First-Gen Institute Data Deep Dive was a half day virtual conference amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic that hosted an expert panel to examine the ways in which COVID might affect data at the institutional, collegiate, and programmatic levels. The panelists focused on institutional, collegiate and programmatic data and implications of the Covid-19 pandemic on FG student experience.
- First-Gen Institute 2021: Unpacking Inequities through an Intersectional Lens (April 1st, 2021)
- This conference emphasized the intersections of social class and the FG student experience. The panels and sessions covered the experience of FG transfer students, mental health, faculty and hidden curriculum, and discussion on ways to hold the institution accountable in supporting FG students and their intersecting identities.
- Faculty Fellow with Graduate School (Spring 2021)
- Prof. Jehangir served as a Faculty Fellow and partnered with the Graduate School in Spring 2021 to conduct focus groups with graduate students. This collaboration resulted in the development of First Gen Connect, an alumni mentorship program for FG college students within graduate school. This partnership revised the language in the admissions application that allows students to identify as first in their family to go to college.
Ongoing Vision For First-Gen Institute
Since 2017, the FG-Institute and Steering Committee Members have continued to identify ongoing gaps in policy and practice with regard to supporting FG students. Institutions nationwide have created programmatic efforts that seek to build supportive enclaves for FG students which have played critical roles in mitigating isolation and marginalization of FG students in higher education. Our campus has several units that directly serve FG students. While these efforts continue to bear fruit, the work of the Institute will focus on stakeholders across campus who work with FG students in multiple capacities. These partnerships will aim to re-structure approaches to design educational spaces that address hidden curriculum norms and mores in the academy. These spaces include classrooms, labs, faculty orientation, and historic practices and policies that perpetuate systemic privilege in departments, disciplines and fields. The hidden curriculum reflects the confluence of racism and classism embedded in the design of higher education which impacts access, belonging, engagement and persistence of first generation students in college and graduate school.
The FG-Institute and its Steering Committee continues to focus our attention on intentional curated training, professional development, and design of curricula to de-construct structural and historic constraints and to create more equitable sites of belonging that recognize the capital of this new majority of students on campus.
Ongoing Commitments and Future Developments
- Cultivate Communities of Practice
- Fill an unmet need for ongoing intentional communities of practice that engage faculty, staff and administrators in cohort reflective spaces to consider how curriculum and pedagogy, policy, and practice can be designed to create more equitable spaces for FG students.
- Increase Faculty Engagement
- Building on faculty session at the 2021 First Gen Institute conference and partnership with the Graduate School Faculty Initiative to create communities of practice and curricular modules to engage in training and faculty development.
- Develop and Support First-Gen Professionals
- Create cohort support for emerging first-gen professionals within higher education.
- Provide Institutional Programming
- Partner with OUE, Graduate School, OED and Student Affairs to design events and curate curriculum / training modules.
- Nurture Collaborative Partnerships
- Building sustainable ongoing partnership with UMN units and other UMN campuses to engage in project consultation, development, and support as well as pathways for undergraduate-to-graduate pipelines for FG students.
- Create a FG Research Lab
- Engage with campus partners to support graduate students whose research align with the aforementioned efforts and provide supervision for research, assistantships, and practica for graduate student development; research project opportunities for undergraduate students; and employing data from training and development to further evidence based practice.
Connections to UMN Strategic Plan
As noted by original goals, ongoing commitments, and future developments, the goals of the institute closely align with the strategic plan commitments and metrics listed here:
- Student Success
- Strengthen career readiness and outcomes for all students
- Develop, innovate, coordinated, and scaled systemwide distributed learning models that increase access and meet workforce needs
- Discovery, Innovation, & Impact
- Advance career outcomes for graduate students and postdocs
- Elevate national and international profile and standing while addressing societal needs
- Community & Belonging
- Retain diverse students, faculty, and staff
- Reduce disparities among underrepresented groups
- Develop education and training to increase intercultural competency and interactional diversity
The efforts described above were led by Prof. Rashné Jehangir in partnership with a Steering Committee which included representatives across campus as well as alumni and students:
Anthony Albecker (TRIO/CEHD)
Gina Brewington (CFANS)
Jessica Cameron (PES/OUE)
Steve Cisneros (PES/OUE)
Kelly Collins (OED)
Consuelo Gutierrez-Crosby (TRIO/CEHD)
Alexander Hines (Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Program/CLA)
Rashné Jehangir, Chair (CEHD)
LeeAnn Melin (OUE)
Terra Molengraff, Co-Chair (CEHD)
Daniel Morales (Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence)
Minerva Muñoz (TRIO/CEHD)
Fatima Omar (Pre-Health Student Resource Center)
Char Voight (Graduate School)
Jehangir, R. (2020). First-generation college students. In M. David, & M. Amey (Eds.), The SAGE encyclopedia of higher education (Vol. 1, pp. 550-554). Sage Publications, Inc. DOI: 10.4135/9781529714395.n210