Friday, November 23, 2012

Overcoming First Generation Challenges, One Student at a Time

From UC News:

Overcoming First Generation Challenges, One Student at a Time

The Gen-1 Theme House, which opened in 2008, will celebrate a milestone in 2013.
Date: 11/15/2012
By: Tim Russell
Like many faculty and staff around the University of Cincinnati, Judy Mause doesn’t have regular hours. But it’s unlikely you’ll hear her, or any of her colleagues who work in the Gen-1 Theme House, complain about long days.

That’s because helping first-generation college students (those who are the first in their families to attend college) make the successful leap into higher education is right where Mause wants to be – late nights, weekends and all. 
Judy Mause Stock Image

“Everyone involved in the Gen-1 Theme House – (program director) Bob Suess, (program specialist) Christina Black, our resident graduate assistant and of course, the students themselves, work together to make it a success,” she says. “There are many more people both on the Gen-1 side and in the university who make this partnership operate, and that in turn motivates me to work just as hard.”

To make your impact, click here to support the Gen-1 Theme House.

Mause’s passion for the Gen-1 project grew from UC’s realization of this national epidemic – and a desire to find a real solution.

“Nationally, nearly nine out of ten first-generation college students were walking away without the skills and education they needed to have a better life, yet most of them had debt from student loans and feelings of failure as well,” says Mause.

“Education is the single most important step an individual can take to change their quality of life,” she continues. “What we’re doing is addressing an incredibly complex problem the best way we know how – one student at a time.”

The team’s research-based knowledge of what helped students succeed in college – increased structure like weekday curfews, and access to resources like advisors and tutors – soon began turning heads at UC and around the country.
“We started getting calls from faculty and staff at other universities who wanted to do something like the Gen-1 House at their college, too,” Mause says. “It was exciting for all of us because we were primarily motivated to make a difference right here in Cincinnati, and what we began to see was that our formula could spread and be adapted to combat the first-generation challenge across the country.”

So what exactly separates the Gen-1 Theme House from other on-campus living environments? Judy points to a number of things, but says community – along with the expectation of academic success – primes students to make the leap from high school to college.

“When we meet with potential applicants and have orientation, we stress that in order to live here, we are expecting them to sacrifice some of their personal freedoms and make a strong personal commitment to their educational success,” Mause says. “They have to be home on time, share how classes are going, check in with staff and advisors, and most importantly, they have to speak up when they have a problem. We have all sorts of resources available to them, but we can’t do anything if we don’t know what they need.”

That’s where the support of fellow Gen-1 students who live in the house – as well as 'alumni' (those who have successfully completed the freshmen year Gen-1 residential experience) who are still enrolled at UC and remain involved in the program also makes an impact.

“Sometimes, hearing from someone who has been through the process makes all the difference,” says Mause. “Since most of these students don’t have someone in their lives who has been in college before, fellow first generation peers are where they can find that support and camaraderie.”

Those involved in the Gen-1 Theme House are already looking forward to spring 2013, when some of the first students of the inaugural Gen-1 cohort plan to graduate. During that time, the residential program has grown from 14 students to 51, and expanded from one house to two, while another 30 Gen-1 alums remain active in the non-residential program.

In addition, the attention and success stories have resulted in even more applicants for next year’s class – a problem that Judy welcomes, even as she is unsure of how costs will be covered.

Mause and the others involved with the Gen-1 program hope that UC’s faculty and staff will consider supporting this initiativeas the first students move closer to graduation – and more students look to find a home at the Gen-1 Theme House.

“What we’re doing goes beyond education. I truly feel that we’re working for social justice. Any bit of support or assistance you can contribute means that we can help more students – and when more students leave here with degrees in hand, we all win.”

Many faculty and staff already answered the call to support the Gen-1 House with private donations, including Drs. John Cuppoletti and Danuta Malinowska, who have been some of the leading employee benefactors over the past few years. Other influential donors include the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr. /US Bank Foundation, UC Foundation Trustee David B. Dillon, Robert G. Bodenlos, and Cincinnati Bengals Defensive End Michael Johnson.

“Every contribution, no matter the amount, helps us continue our work,” says Mause. “So please know that your gift will be appreciated by all of us here, but most of all, by the students we’re able to serve.”

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