Local Schools

‘What other college president knows your first name?’

Marté Wade, sophomore, learned invaluable time management skills through his participation in the First Generation Scholars program at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth. He was part of last year’s pilot program and looks forward to serving as a mentor to other students. PHOTO COURTESY OF USM MARKETING DEPARTMENT

by Therese Horvat
Special to The Leaven

LEAVENWORTH — Students who are the first generation in their families to attend college often have no one to fall back on to learn the ropes of academic and campus life. Data from across the country shows that these students are not as persistent in achieving graduation as those with parents who have previously attended college.

The University of Saint Mary (USM), Leavenworth, is working to change this trajectory by equipping first generation students with skills and supports to be successful. The First Generation Scholars program at USM includes a weeklong orientation for freshmen and transfer students before the academic year even begins.

In addition to the orientation week, First Generation students attend eight sessions per semester that focus on understanding and navigating different dimensions of college life. Topics of these every-other-week sessions include study tips, note taking, time management, financial aid and the learning management system.

On alternate weeks, the Student Success program offers “skill shops” open to all USM students to reinforce important information. Student Success sessions cover dealing with stress, career readiness and placement, financial literacy and planning for the upcoming semester.

“We’re doing everything we can to help make our students successful,” said Robert Schuchardt, vice president of student life. “This would not be possible without the involvement of our faculty, staff and donors.”

Marté Wade, a sophomore at USM, attests that the First Generation Scholars program has made a big difference in his study habits. The first of his family to attend college, he admits to being distracted a lot during his freshman year. He played football and set out to have a good time. Procrastination was his biggest challenge.

Wade participated in the First Generation Scholars pilot program and especially benefited from the session on time management. Through an exercise spent tracking his daily activities on a time sheet, he learned ways to set priorities and to focus better. He received support for his positive behavior from his coaches and his adviser. He hopes to mentor other First Generation students and his own siblings.

This year, the USM First Generation program has 176 students enrolled (out of 700 undergraduates on the Leavenworth campus). Using information from their Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), USM invites students to participate in the program. The university also provides scholarship assistance to First Generation Scholars.

The program is evolving as it progresses. Based on the pilot program, USM enhanced communications with parents of students invited to participate. Schuchardt pointed to plans to develop a mentorship program involving past years’ First Generation Scholars. Program leaders have learned that hosting guest speakers who have been first in their families to attend college resonates with the students. Well-received speakers have included Sister Diane Steele, SCL, USM president, and retired Army Col. Stanley Evans, USM board member and assistant dean of the College of Law at the University of Oklahoma.

Building community with new students is important and supports retention. Michael Padow, director of Student Success, says that getting to know the First Generation Scholars and other students allows USM to serve them better. Throughout the semester, program leaders check in with students to get a pulse on what more they need to know to navigate college life and their studies. Padow believes that the more students get involved at USM, the more they feel they belong and fit — and the better the chances are that they will graduate.

First Generation Scholar Wade feels that he’s on a good track going forward. He has mapped out a career path. He talks to Schuchardt and Padow almost daily. He appreciates that USM still seems like family to him to the extent that he asks, “What other college president knows your first name?”

John Shultz, vice president of marketing and admissions, identifies the First Generation Scholars program as highly consistent with USM’s mission.

“When they haven’t had guideposts, we’re helping acclimate students to college so they can better achieve their potential. This is the life-changing capacity of Catholic higher education — to help our students reach their goals in spite of obstacles in their lives.”

About the author

The Leaven

The Leaven is the official newspaper of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

Leave a Comment