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Thirty-nine percent of Weber State University students identify as first generation students, the first within their family to attend a four-year institution to attain a bachelor’s degree. These students often lack professional, financial, psychological and academic resources.
The average ACT score and GPA of a first-generation student is 20 and 2.4, respectively. Amanda Nielsen, WSU student support services advisor and retention specialist, believes the rates are lower because families are unsure of how they can help their driven first-generation child.
Faculty, staff and advisers involved in the WSU first-generation club offer help to students who need guidance in signing up for classes, tutoring, navigating around campus or who need a place to feel welcome and safe.
The organization strives to create a sense of community and create opportunities for recreation, community service and networking, according to WSU’s student affairs’ website.
Jeni Claudio, WSU student and mother of five, said she would have dropped out in her first semester if she did not have the support from faculty and staff like Nielsen.
“Amanda would even sit down and listen to what I have to say for the day,” Claudio said. “She has supported me so much. She has gone above and beyond because she wants me to be successful.”
Before Nielsen worked at WSU, she was an adviser for the University of Alaska Anchorage. She met with a student who was failing most of her classes, but offered to help her out. Nielsen tutored her and provided counseling when she needed it.
Nielsen said she has a strong passion for working with students so they can better themselves, gain support and graduate. As she and the club grow, she would love to see more opportunities to plan and fund alternative spring breaks.
The first and only alternative spring break she planned was the Seattle service trip. During the break, students volunteered at a soup kitchen, served low-income community members and planted fruits and vegetables in low-income neighborhoods where residents could not afford healthier food options.
Nielsen hopes that by having more alternative spring breaks and more events in general, it will “light a fire in (students) to want to serve others.”
Jared Vanderdoes, trip leader and club president, said it’s important the club holds more events to show first-generation students there is access to help and guidance.
According to Vanderdoes, students should want to be involved in the club for leadership opportunities, volunteering and building a resume. Potential employers will acknowledge one’s degree, but being involved will get that person a little further ahead than the rest.
“I want students to go to events, and not just go to school to be done for the day. There’s a life outside of class in college,” Vanderdoes said. “Students need to know that college is supposed to be fun, and meeting other first-generation students can help them have a more enjoyable time at school.”