First Generation dinner: Making transitions and learning traditions

Published in The Bells on September 12, 2018.

To welcome the 370 first-generation freshmen who became Crusaders this year, The University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s President Randy O’Rear hosted the third annual First to Go Welcome Dinner on his front lawn on campus Thursday, Aug. 30. The recently established annual dinner is held for first-generation freshmen to help them get in touch with other students, faculty and even President O’Rear himself. Students had the chance to eat Cru dogs for the first time, take pictures in a photo booth and participate in a raffle for UMHB themed prizes.

UMHB defines the term ‘first-generation’ as a student where neither parents received a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Katie Gregory is the head of the First to Go (F2G) program and a Student Success Specialist in the Center for Academic Excellence (CAE). She personally contacts each student before the school year starts and answers their questions.

“There have always been first-generation students attending UMHB, but [this is the third year the program has been active].“As each year passes, we enhance the program to be more impactful and beneficial for students,” Gregory said.

Statistics show that three out of five first-generation college students do not complete a degree in six years, and 60 percent of the first-generation students who drop out of college do so during their first year. These are two statistics UMHB is trying to change. By providing recourses and answering questions, the F2G program is helping first-generation students realize that they are not alone and have many people who want them to succeed in life beyond UMHB.

“Originally, I felt we had such a large number of first-generation students and I felt that the university could do more for that group of students and encourage them. The national statistics communicate that it is hard to be successful as a first-generation student,” President Randy O’Rear said.

He started hosting the dinner to show first-generation students that UMHB cares about their well-being and achievements. He wanted to show the incoming freshmen that they are not alone in this and help is all around them.

“They came to Mary Hardin-Baylor because they want to obtain a college degree and we are here to help them reach that goal,” O’Rear said.

Many students have some sort of idea about what college will be like or they can ask their parent about their college years. But first-generation students don’t really know what to expect because they are the first in their family to experience college. Freshman social work major Mary Herschberger says that a big challenge for her is breaking the cycle of not attending a college. And she feels the pressure to succeed in that.

“I know there is a lot of pressure on my shoulders but I know that I will be able to do great things,” Herschberger said.

Another student who attended the dinner was freshman education major Samantha Dewberry. She explained that some of the biggest challenges she has faced thus far are financial aid and a lack of information coming into UMHB.

“I don’t have aid coming from home so I’m doing it all by myself,” Dewberry said. “I have been trying to balance work and school and that’s been tough. Not knowing what I need to do to prepare is also difficult. For example, I didn’t know what to do when it came to textbooks or things like that when I first came. Thankfully, the professors and staff are always open to answer any questions I have, and I email them all the time to ask for advice on what to do.”

At the dinner, Gregory introduced three student mentors who would be able to help the incoming freshmen. The mentors are returning first-generation students and can talk about school or life with new students.
One of the first-generation mentors is senior psychology major Deja Daniels. Daniels attended the college mixer during her freshman year and now does what she can to help other first-generation students.

“It can be hard being out here by themselves for the first time but having someone to help makes the transition easier and really helps,” Daniels said. “That is where [the mentors] come in. Talking to someone else who went through the same thing helps.”
Freshman social work major Natalie Blanco says that having someone to help with transitioning has been really beneficial.
“UMHB has helped me adjust to school life through the residential assistants, the Cru leaders, and the faculty because they are always there if we need them to answer any questions we have,” Blanco said.

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