University News

Guidebook to assist first-gen students

First-Gens@Brown, student contributors team up to offer tips on topics including office hours

Staff Writer
Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The student group First-Gens@Brown will release a guidebook by the end of winter break aimed at helping first-generation students navigate some challenges of college.

“We wanted to support all first-gen college students on campus,” said Brandon Le ’18, a leader of the project. Manuel Contreras ’16, a Herald editorial page board editor, originally proposed the project but eventually transferred leadership to Le and Stephanie Sanchez ’17, Le said.

First-Gens@Brown board members and recruited student contributors will work together to write the guidebook, Le said.

First-generation students often experience difficulty since “no one in their family has done (college) before,” he said. “Why are we expecting (first-generation students) to know how college works?” he asked.

The guidebook will be “written by first-gens and for first-gens” and “tailored toward their needs,” Sanchez said. It will cover a broad range of topics that could pertain to first-generation students, including office hours, scholarship programs such as the Sidney E. Frank Scholars program, Minority Peer Counselor advising and meal plan, she said.

For first-generation students, going off meal plan may be more financially feasible and allow for greater flexibility, as the first-generation status is often linked with a lower income, Sanchez said.

The guidebook will also aim to spread awareness of summer opportunities. While many students obtain internships, part-time jobs and research positions for the summer, “navigating that as a first-gen can be very intimidating,” Le said. As a first-generation student, Le said at first he “didn’t know how that system worked” and was “shocked that it was normal” to feel that way.

“Sometimes just knowing what’s out there is helpful,” said Vananh Tran ’16, a member of First-Gens@Brown.

First-generation students can also have difficulties when applying to college, as no one in their family  has undergone the process, said Gabrielle Alcala ’19, another First-Gens@Brown member. “The college application process was a lonely experience,” she said.

While the board is still recruiting student contributors, the creation of the guidebook is already underway, Sanchez said. Many students have shown interest and begun writing, editing and graphic designing, and several pages of the guidebook are complete, she said.

Sanchez said many of the contributors have also been positing new topics to cover, including managing homesickness for those who cannot return home during breaks, practicing self-care, discussing the college experience with family members, transitioning from home to college and facing the academic challenges of college.

Some first-generation students may have attended underserved high schools that did not provide them with adequate preparation for the rigors of Brown academics, Le said.

The board is also planning on creating a website on which the guidebook could be uploaded and accessible to all current and prospective students in PDF format, Le said. The board hopes to include narratives from first-generation students and professors on the website, he said.

Several board members stressed the fact that the guidebook will inevitably continue to change.

The guidebook is a “living, breathing document,” Le said.

Alcala said she is particularly “interested to see how (the guidebook) impacts current and prospective students.”

Ultimately, the underlying purpose of the guidebook is to let first-generation students know that “their identity is being acknowledged,” Tran said.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated that Manuel Contreras ’16 is the founder of First-Gens@Brown. The Herald regrets the error.