The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and The Suder Foundation, recently included Bellarmine University in its 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort. The First-gen Forward designation recognizes higher education institutions that have demonstrated a commitment to improving the experiences and advancing the 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.
“First-gen Forward now recognizes and supports over 200 diverse institutions across three cohorts, all of which continue to lead the nation through their commitment to first-generation student success,” said Dr. Sarah E. Whitley, assistant vice president, Center for First-generation Student Success. “We are pleased to welcome Bellarmine for its long-term commitment and demonstrated strategies for advancing first-generation student initiatives.”
Nearly 30 percent of Bellarmine’s students are the first in their family to go to college. Bellarmine supports them through numerous initiatives guided by the Student Success Center, in collaboration with the Student Success Task Force and other campus partners focusing on student retention.
A major initiative is the Pioneer Scholars Program, which assists first-generation students in adjusting to the social and academic challenges of college life. Pioneer Scholars take a class their first year at Bellarmine. The program includes peer mentoring, academic success initiatives, community-building, resource- and transition-focused programming, mental health and wellness sessions, equity and inclusion workshops, career development and more.
“We have two primary goals of Pioneer Scholars. The first is to create an inclusive network of faculty, staff and peers so that first-generation students develop a sense of belonging on our campus,” said Kim Kerns, assistant dean of Academic Enrichment. “The second is to help students identify and effectively utilize campus resources, policies and opportunities designed to support their individualized needs throughout their college transition.”
In years past, Bellarmine awarded between 20 and 40 Pioneer Scholar Book Scholarships (depending on funding). Now, with Bellarmine’s OnCourse program, which provides books to all students at the start of each semester, Bellarmine is exploring ways to mitigate other financial barriers for first-gen students.
Bellarmine also established the “I’m First” Community, a group of more than 100 first-generation faculty and staff who have opted in to helping first-generation students in various ways.
All first-generation students receive a special graduation cord.
“We are so grateful to be recognized in the 2021-22 First-gen Forward cohort,” said Dr. Paul Gore, Bellarmine’s vice president for Academic Affairs and Provost. “Promoting the success of all students with an emphasis on college access and affordability is a pillar of our university’s strategic plan. This recognition honors the hard work of our faculty and student success staff who are committed to our plan and our institutional ideals.”
Through the First-gen Forward program, Bellarmine faculty and staff will engage with peer institutions through opportunities such as the First-gen Forward Workshop slated for June, monthly calls, virtual professional development, goal setting and more.
After two successful years in the program, institutions are eligible to apply for the advisory leadership designation.