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900 UC Faculty To First Generation Students: We Feel You

This photo shows Fallen Star, a small cottage atop Jacobs Hall, a seven story...

Credit: Associated Press / Lenny Ignelzi

Above: This photo shows Fallen Star, a small cottage atop Jacobs Hall, a seven story structure that houses the engineering school on the campus of the University of California-San Diego in San Diego.

The University of California has announced a new initiative to help first-generation college students connect with faculty members who were once in their shoes.

College freshmen will soon be getting their first taste of independence and an alphabet soup of campus jargon. It’s a dizzying time for most, but particularly for students who are the first in their families to attend college.

“I’d seen in movies, of course, about how college is supposed to be,” said Riva Alger, who is a first-generation college student at UC San Diego. “But when you are actually at the university trying to figure out what a discussion is or what office hours are, those are words that were never in my brain before.”

The University of California is rolling out a new initiative to help students like Alger, who is now a senior studying cognitive science. During the first week of class, nearly 900 faculty across the university system will wear T-shirts and buttons identifying themselves as first-generation college students. This, and an online portal, aims to help students connect with faculty who were once just like them.

Systemwide, 42 percent of students are the first in their families to go to college. At UC San Diego last year, 29 percent of freshmen were first-generation college students. The population is expected to grow in the coming years.

RELATED: UC San Diego Releases Admissions Stats

While first generation students in the UC system fare better than those nationally, they are still less likely to graduate than their classmates whose parents went to college. Just over 80 percent graduate within six years, compared to 87 percent of their peers. About half of first-generation college students graduate in the same timeframe nationwide, according to a UCLA study.

“First generation students are definitely intelligent and know how to figure things out,” Alger said. “They just need to be given good resources to do so.”

Alger said UC San Diego’s First Generation Student Link program helped her get to where she is today by connecting her with resources, her first job and other first-generation students. But she said the addition of faculty mentors could help even more.

“Having a mentor such as a faculty member who’s successful and has figured it out to help you figure it out, I think that would be great,” she said.

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