CMU selected to join First Scholars Network

University recognized for commitment to first-generation student success

| Author: Ari Harris | Media Contact: Aaron Mills

In recognition of its commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes for first-generation college students, Central Michigan University has been selected as a member of the First Scholars Network.

The Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA and The Suder Foundation, today announced the selection of seventy-six new members for 2023-24, including CMU. 

“The Center is pleased to welcome Central Michigan University into the First Scholars Network,” said Sarah E. Whitley, vice president with the Center for First-generation Student Success. “Through the application process, it was evident that CMU is not only taking steps to serve first-generation students but also is prepared to make a long-term commitment and employ strategies that foster an environment of success for this important population.”

According to a press release from the Center for First-generation Student Success, the First Scholars Network, “is a four-phase approach that allows institutions of higher education to advance student success through establishing communities of practice, gaining knowledge of resources, and establishing peer networks.”

As a member of the network, CMU’s faculty and staff will have opportunities to engage with other network member institutions, as well as chances to participate in monthly calls, professional development, goal setting support, annual reporting and more. 

Strengthening support for first-gen students

Vice President for the Division of Student Affairs Renee’ Watson said joining the First Scholars Network strengthens CMU’s commitment to first-generation students. 

“Furthermore, it allows CMU to be a part of a select and dedicated community of scholars and practitioners with strategies for helping this student population to succeed,” Watson said.

Watson, a first-generation college graduate, said she understands well the hurdles that first-generation students may face when entering college.

“At the same time, I also know that with the right support and sense of belonging, first-generation college students have the tools to be successful,” she said. “I want every first-generation student who attends CMU to succeed in and out of the classroom.”

Dani Hiar, associate director of student affairs, led the First Scholars Network application process. She said joining the network will offer opportunities to expand existing programs and build stronger collaborations between and among colleges, departments and divisions on campus, including development of a new resource hub called First Gen Central.

“We know that there are several scholarships, activities, programs, services and support networks across the university, but there isn’t a cohesive or centralized repository of what those opportunities are or how students can easily access them,” Hiar said. “The goal of First Gen Central is to become a cohesive entry point for first-gen students as they navigate their academic journey.”

Removing barriers to success

Hiar, who is a first-generation college graduate, said that nearly 20% of CMU’s student body identifies as first-generation, a population that can often face additional challenges when entering college. 

“The underlying roadblocks to degree completion for first-generation college students have been well documented and examined by academic scholars and researchers since the 1970s,” Hiar said. “Research indicates that issues negatively impacting first-generation college students include less academic preparation, internalization of negative stereotypes, less awareness of information about colleges and funding opportunities, ongoing financial concerns, culture shock, low self-esteem, and underdeveloped study and time management skills.”

CMU already offers some programs and services for first-gen students, such as the Pathways program and the Central Bridge registered student organization, which focuses on helping first-generation students make the transition from high school to college. The additional resources available through the First Scholars Network will bolster these existing efforts and streamline efforts universitywide, Hiar said.

“Developing centralized resources and intentional support networks for first-generation college students ultimately benefits both the student and CMU, in admissions, enrollment and student success, not to discount helping to build a vibrant, diverse and inclusive campus community.”

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