Dixie State University focuses efforts on first-generation students’ success

IMG_7412With Dixie State University's new Strategic Plan in motion, a new initiative to support and strengthen first-generation students has arisen. The First Generation Initiative is bringing awareness to the high percentage of these students on DSU’s campus and aims to increase their graduation percentage. The national average of first-generation students – which is defined as a student with neither parent having completed a 4-year degree – is roughly 32 percent, while Dixie State’s portion is almost 45 percent of the entire student body. First-generation students face a distinct struggle and disadvantage in that they cannot glean from their parents’ college experiences as other students can during such a transitory period of their lives. The Student Success Center and Faculty Senate are working with the Strategic Plan Implementation Team to assist these students by implementing three initial strategies on Dixie State’s campus. The first strategy is to identify the students on class rolls so that faculty members can recognize and reach out to them. Additional encouragement should be given to freshman first-generation students as they are the most in need of mentorship and direction in their initial year at college. “Recognizing who they are is important to reaching out to these students who are, in all reality, the most likely to drop out,” said James Haendiges, an English professor at Dixie State and faculty senate president-elect. “I went through this too as a first-generation student, so I want to help them complete their degrees and be successful.” For the second strategy, faculty and staff are encouraged to be mentors to first-generation students throughout the academic year by providing support and being a resource. By making connections with faculty, students are more likely to remain enrolled in classes and receive their baccalaureate degree. “It’s all about being able to couple learning with connections and professional relationships,” continued Haendiges, in regard to the goal of connecting students with mentors. Reaching out to parents is the third goal which DSU hopes to accomplish via a Trailblazer Parent’s Newsletter. This will be sent out periodically to all parents, but will be especially informative and beneficial to parents of the first-generation students. The newsletter will include information relating to campus resources, how parents can support their students, and messages from faculty and staff across campus. Richard Featherstone, one of the members of the team who began the initiative, was also a first-generation student and strives to provide students with an opportunity grow. “Over time, my conception of college evolved from a place that I could get a credential in order to make more money, to a community of people who brought learning together to help me become a more thoughtful and engaged individual,” Featherstone said. “This is my hope for Dixie State University. I would love for us to be a place that not only increases a person’s knowledge, but also enlarges their aspirations to improve our world.” Further elements of the First Generation Initiative will be released as the year goes on and for more information on the initiative, contact Richard Featherstone at featherstone@utahtech.edu.