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The Generation One (Gen1) initiative at Stevenson University involved pairing 30 incoming first-year, first-generation students with a faculty or staff mentor (themselves first-generation college graduates) to meet on a regular basis during the first full academic year to talk about strategies for academic success and discuss personal issues of concern to the students. In addition, Gen1 students participated in workshops, off campus outings, activities, and experiences in order to foster connections with peers, university life, and the community.
One measure of the success of the effort to increase group cohesion is that Gen1 students sponsored a Gen1 Pride Day to inform the larger student body and attract other participants. They distributed book markers, cupcakes, and homemade buttons along with information about first-generation students and the Gen1 program.
The Gen1 initiative that proved most successful at ensuring retention toward graduation came from the mentor program. Having the students attach themselves to mentors who took a genuine interest in them as individuals contributed to the connection that each of them made to the university. Many of the students forged relationships with their mentors that have continued beyond the program’s two-year framework. These relationships not only served as a foundation that helped the students conceptualize the true value of mentorship, but the relationships also showed the students that if their mentor could succeed, then so could they.
The initiative also awarded a small scholarship to participating students.

Program Outcomes

Although about one-third of the Gen1 students left the university during the grant period, not one of them left for reasons of academic failure. Most of these students transferred to other institutions within the first year, returned to their home states, or could not continue at Stevenson because of financial reasons.
Increased retention was consistently achieved for the Gen1 program students versus all first-time, first-year students. Using the class entering in fall 2009 as an example, Gen1 students in fall 2010 had a 83.6 percent retention rate, compared with 76.2 percent for all; in spring 2011 Gen1 students had a 78.9 percent retention rate compared with 71.6 percent for all; in fall 2011 Gen1 students had a 70.4 percent retention rate compared with 63.6 percent for all; and in spring 2012 Gen1 students had a 67.1 percent retention rate compared with 61.1 percent. The numbers were closer for the classes entering in 2010 and 2011.
The GPAs of the two groups were comparable and close for all three classes, with the advantage changing a bit from semester to semester. In conclusion, given the challenges faced by Gen1 students, their persistence and improved academic performance was better than would have been expected without the Gen1 initiative.
The program also generated expanded social and cultural capital for the participants and much stronger identification with the institution.

Program Updates

The Gen1 program continued beyond the period of the award and is administered by the Office of Academic Support Services under the auspices of the director of academic advising. Recognizing the importance of attending to the needs of first-generation students, the director extended experiences from the Gen1 program and made them available to the entire first-generation campus community, almost one-third of the student population.