Return to Program Profiles Notre Dame of Maryland University

With the support of the CIC/Walmart College Success Award, the College of Notre Dame (now Notre Dame of Maryland University) launched the Trailblazer Scholars Program in fall 2010 to provide first-generation students with the tools, incentives, and support they need to persist and graduate. The design of this voluntary program focused on providing a high-impact service experience during the students’ first year followed by a substantive research/experiential learning project during later years at Notre Dame. To supplement these experiences, additional support for participating students included big sister peer mentors; eligibility for $1,000 grants upon successful completion of the program; workshops on topics relevant to first-generation students (such as a highly rated financial aid workshop for parents); two yearly planned campus visits for parents; two yearly campus events involving Notre Dame first-generation alumnae; regular consultations between Trailblazers and academic and Career Enrichment Center staff and tutors; and a web portal for Trailblazers.
The evolving community among the Trailblazer students is a significant factor in their continuing engagement with the university. One student indicated that having a group that relates to her situation and someone to talk to helped her continue on her path to a degree. Another student agreed, “Trailblazers helped me to meet people and make wonderful friends who have been super-supportive.” Another said, “I have made friends out of my major in the program. This helps a lot as I am a commuter.”

Program Outcomes

Trailblazers who were active in the program consistently demonstrated improved academic performance over their first-generation peers and, in some cases, over all students. At the end of the 2010–2011 academic year, after the fall 2010 cohort had been with the program a year, first-generation students had a mean GPA of 3.07 compared to a mean GPA of 2.98 for non-first-generation students. At the end of fall 2011, first-generation students had a mean GPA of 3.13 compared to 3.03 in non-first-generation students, and at the end of the 2011–2012 academic year first-generation and non-first-generation students had almost the same mean GPA at 3.20 and 3.21 respectively.
The program also led to increased retention rates. In cohort one, the retention rate of students in the Trailblazers Scholars Program was 52 percent, compared to 42 percent of first-generation students not in the program. In cohort two, the retention rate was 84 percent for program students compared to 70 percent for first-generation non-program students.
In addition, Trailblazer consultations with campus career counselors held on a regular basis contributed to greater career awareness among the participants.
The institution was strengthened by higher levels of student engagement, greater involvement of the parents of first-generation students, and the “evolving community” of first-generation learners. Thus, students in the program also benefitted from expanded social and cultural capital.

Program Updates

The university is committed to continuing and strengthening this program. The success of first-generation students will continue to be tracked and used to evaluate services.