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Mentoring program created for first-generation students

Staff Writer

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2013

Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2013 14:01

first-gen students


Alicia Bourque, director of the University Counseling Center and Health Services, meets with her peer mentee and other faculty, staff and peer mentors at the monthly dialogue that was held for First in the Pack on Jan. 17. The monthly dialogue was the first of four for First in the Pack.

Students, faculty and staff have come together to mentor about 45 first-generation, first-year students through a program called First in the Pack.

First in the Pack was started by Elizabeth Rainey, director of retention and student success, and Roberta Kaskel, director of the Career Development Center, to help first-generation, first-year college students transition from high school to college.

Rainey and Kaskel also asked Amy Boyle, associate director of Residential Life; Christina Neilson, area director of Buddig Hall; and Jill Boatright, assistant director of the Career Development Center, to help in the development of the program.

According to Rainey, the idea for the program came from Laura Murphy, assistant professor of English. Murphy approached Rainey with the request for a program specializing in helping first-generation college students.

Murphy said this program has been the brainchild of an idea to “celebrate and support” first generation students.

“Liz Rainey and I have been talking since we first met about what a privilege it is to work at a school where more than 30 percent of the students are the first in their family to attend college,” Murphy said in an email.

Being the first in her family to go to college, Murphy said she understands the struggles a first generation student may encounter regarding college life.

“My parents weren’t able to go to college, and my father did not even finish high school. I struggled to navigate the complicated terrain of LSU’s giant campus and bureaucracy when I was there. I wanted to support other students who might be facing the same difficulties here at Loyola,” Murphy said.

Over the summer, Sal Liberto, vice president for enrollment management, and Cissy Petty, vice president for student affairs, asked Rainey and Kaskel to come up with an initiative for student success.

“We decided to begin with the first-generation college students because there was already this movement,” Rainey said. “I’ve always been keen on getting some mentoring programs; it’s so natural for our Jesuit mission. It’s a natural fit and a good use of resources.”

Rainey said that there has been a phenomenal response to the program from students, faculty and staff.

“The range [of faculty and staff] who volunteered is really cool, and that was really special. To us, it reaffirmed that there was a need for this,” Rainey said.

Kaskel said the program is to help students adjust to college and make sure Loyola is the right college for them. To do this, there are monthly dialogues, the first of which was held Jan. 17. The monthly talks will focus on issues including discussing finances with family and reconnecting with family after being away.

Rainey said, “We’re hoping to create a new and stronger sense of community in a way that can be replicated and that is contagious. We want to get students excited to be a part of Loyola.”

Murphy and associate English Professor John Sebastian both spoke at the kick-off on Jan. 17 about their experiences as first-generation college students.

Murphy said she hopes this program shows first generation students that they have students, faculty and staff at Loyola they can rely on as resources.

“I hope that students won’t feel as if they have to hide the fact that they are first in their families to go to college. I hope that we will help support them through their time at Loyola and that they will all graduate. And I hope the program helps Loyola pursue its mission to educate and graduate the many talented and determined young people we recruit who might not otherwise have this opportunity,” Murphy said.

English writing sophomore and First in the Pack peer mentor Gabrielle Gatto said she thinks the program is important because finding your niche can be hard, especially as a first generation student.

“I didn’t really have anyone to tell me the little things, like it’s okay to drop a class or you can rent textbooks instead of buying them. I want to be the person I needed last year for someone else,” Gatto said.

Hannah Iannazzo can be reached at  

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