Cal State Fullerton’s Faculty Development Center this summer presented its first-ever extended, multi-day faculty institute focused on first-generation college students, their struggles and the importance of faculty support for this student population.
“Over half of our students at Cal State Fullerton are first-generation college students and research shows that, as a result, they do have different instructional needs,” said Maria Estela Zarate, associate professor of educational leadership and one of the institute leaders.
In May, 54 percent of students who graduated from CSUF with bachelor’s degrees were the first in their families to do so.
The three-day “Teaching First-Generation College Students: Simple Strategies to Support Academic Achievement” institute aimed to encourage faculty to discuss, develop and integrate specific teaching techniques to support the academic achievement of first-generation college students, such as how to be explicit in their expectations and instructions.
Workshops highlighted themes like incorporating culturally responsive instruction, fostering resilience, social integration, teamwork and boosting student engagement.
“I think at the most basic level (faculty) have to remember in being the first in their families to go to college, they don’t have a lot of the family-shared knowledge of going to college,” said Zarate of first-generation college students. “They are navigating on their own.”
These students typically aren’t as familiar with college dorms or faculty office hours the way other students might be, she said.
They may also not know what resources are available or who to reach out to on a university campus when they have a question or issue to resolve.
Faculty members could have a positive role in introducing these students to resources available on campus, Zarate said.
The August institute was led by Zarate and Rebecca Gutierrez Keeton – a professor of educational leadership – both of whom were first-generation students.
“This is such a crucial topic for CSUF faculty members to learn more about because so many CSUF students are first-generation college students,” said Laura Lohman, director of the Faculty Development Center.
“Nationally, first-generation college students are more likely than other students to quit college after their first year, so this is a very important group of students to support from the outset,” she said.
“First-generation college students are a diverse group, but we can anticipate and help them with some common struggles,” Lohman said.
According to Lohman, faculty can help first-generation college students by:
• Making clear through the language in their course policies that they are eager to help students succeed
• Incorporating more opportunities for social interaction in class
• Being proactive in establishing strong individual relationships with students
• Providing ample opportunities for collaborative learning
• Introducing real-world application of the concepts and skills being taught
• Guiding students to set personal goals
• Incorporating high-impact practices
“The overall goal of the institute was to familiarize faculty members with a range of relatively simple strategies that they can use to support the academic success of first-generation college students and to guide them in incorporating these strategies into at least one course that they will be teaching this fall or spring,” Lohman said.
Some first-generation college students struggle with being pressured to drop out of school by family members who question why the student is dedicating an abundance of time and resources to their classes, she said.
“A faculty member who reaches out with encouragement and support to such a student may be what helps that student persist and complete their degree,” she said.
Funding for the institute was provided by a grant awarded to Lohman from the National Education Association Foundation.
Due to the long waiting list and positive feedback the institute has garnered among all faculty, the center is working to bring back the summer institute and develop similar seminars.
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Dr. Zarate is a full time professor and advocate for bilingual education and her research focuses on equitable access to higher education, college persistence among first-generation students, the educational trajectory of Latino students, and the family and social context of Latino students’ educational experiences. Learn more about Dr. Zarate here.
Dr. Rebecca Gutierrez-Keeton is a full time professor at the Educational Leadership Department. Her research interests involve higher education, multiple identity development, social justice, transition to college programs, women in student affairs, student perceptions of leadership, and Latina Leadership. Learn more about Dr. Rebecca Gutierrez-Keeton here.