New org supports students who are first in their families to attend college

March 31, 2021

Through game nights, campus information panels, employer meet and greets and more, UM-Dearborn’s First Gen Student Org focuses on outreach and education to keep students connected.

Graphic of students helping each other succeed
Graphic of students helping each other succeed
Graphic by Violet Dashi

First generation students are the first in their families to go to college. They make up 40% of UM-Dearborn’s student population. And since many don’t have people in their families to ask about the ins and outs of university life, campus created a strong support system for them to succeed. 

But there’s one problem: Because First-Gens are new to the college experience, many don’t realize they are part of a unique community group — and if they don’t realize that, they often won’t know there are specialized resources available to help them reach their goals. 

“That’s the irony of it,” said senior Brandon Queen, a first generation college student. “The resources are there because people at UM-Dearborn know we may not have anyone in our immediate families we can talk to about college — but because we don’t have anyone to talk to, we don’t know that we should be seeking out resources. So we need someone to reach out to us.”

Photo of Brandon Queen, Class of 2021
Photo of Brandon Queen, Class of 2021
Brandon Queen

So Queen, along with first-generation students Reem Omer and Brigit Bradakis and UM-Dearborn’s Office of Student Life, formed a new campus organization last fall: The First Gen Student Org. Together, they perform both outreach and education on virtual platforms like Discord, Zoom and other social channels to help students feel connected and informed.

“We don’t assume people know things. One of us didn’t know the difference between faculty (professors) and staff (campus support people like academic advisers) even though you see those words everywhere,” Queen says. “It’s all part of the learning curve that we hope this organization helps navigate.”

Photo of  Reem Omer
Photo of  Reem Omer
Reem Omer

The format is simple. The First Gen Student Org creates an online event and people can drop in. Events include game nights, employer meet and greets, campus information panels and more. “We change it up to give people options,” Queen says. “We also keep it casual. You can show up with your camera off and just listen, or you can actively participate. You can come to one or you can show up to all. It’s up to you.” He says faculty and staff can also get involved by becoming First Gen Allies.

Queen says being flexible and approachable is important because juggling commitments like work, school and family can make high-level commitment difficult. Queen himself juggles class, a job at Bosch, a supplemental instructing position at UM-Dearborn and mentoring a high school robotics club.

Photo of Brigit Bradakis
Photo of Brigit Bradakis
Brigit Bradakis

Queen says flexibility got him involved with campus and led to him starting this newer student group. Pre-pandemic, the Office of Student Life asked Queen if I’d like to be involved in starting a First Gen student group. “I didn’t think I had the time. I couldn’t make a meeting because I was driving from work to another commitment. But they were flexible and said I could call into the meeting, which I did,” he says. “It worked well and we realized that options are important and we could meet people where they were instead of making them come to us. Of course, the pandemic made it more clear that remote contact can work well. It also made us work harder to find and connect with First Gen students — we wanted to help them take steps in any area where there may be an engagement gap.”

Queen says even when activities transition back to campus, the org will continue to have remote options. And it will remain attendance flexible. He says it’s about people checking it out and seeing if the experience is right for them.

“In the worst case scenario, you meet some people, learn something new about campus, and realize that you don’t quite have enough time on your plate. And that’s ok,” Queen says. “In the best case scenario, you become involved and get connected to campus in ways that can be life changing. Boy, that sounds dramatic. But it's true. The more connected you become, the more opportunities you will find.”

Story by Sarah Tuxbury. Want to learn more about the First Gen Student Organization? Email your questions or check out their VictorsLink page.

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