As the first in her family to attend college, Kirsti Paolini of Cherry Hill, N.J., is feeling a mix of emotions.
She is excited for the new experience, but nervous about being away from home and on her own.
“It is different from other students whose parents went to college, because my parents have no idea what college is like either. It is new for my whole family,” said Paolini, who is majoring in elementary education at West Virginia University in the fall.
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Approximately 22 percent of WVU’s incoming freshman class are first-generation students, many who feel the same ways as Paolini.
To help better address first-generation students’ and parents’ needs, WVU held its inaugural orientation session just for first-generation students this summer. Approximately 200 students and their families participated.
“The presenters at this orientation know that these are first-generation families, and they take extra care when speaking. They are careful not to use acronyms and we encourage them to explain things along the way,” said Courtney Jennings, coordinator for New Student Orientation.
For example, while FAFSA may be a widely known acronym among college students and their families – those who are new to the college environment might not be aware that it stands for the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and that everyone must complete it, Jennings added.
University officials also take care in pointing out the resources and support students and parents have on campus, including the Mountaineer Parents Club, tutoring services and student health, among other things.
At the beginning of the orientation session, Barbara Copenhaver-Bailey, assistant vice president for Student Affairs, welcomed first-generation parents. Copenhaver-Bailey was also a first-generation student, and has worked with first-generation students at WVU for the past 14 years.
She encouraged parents to do some things for themselves, such as join the Mountaineer Parents Club. And, she told parents to encourage their students to get involved on campus, among other things.
“I think this is an untapped population. These students have such potential, and they are very excited to be going out and doing something that no one in their family has done,” she said. “But, the bottom line is they don’t have anyone at home that understands what they are going through and although their families may be very supportive, they really can’t give a whole lot of direction. So, the students are really dependent upon themselves.”
Copenhaver-Bailey also emphasized to parents that they are not alone, and there are hundreds of other parents feeling the same way as them.
“There are a lot of people here that care about your student,” she said to parents.
During advising sessions, many students were also able to register for a special section of the University’s freshman orientation class designed just for first-generation students. Sections of English 101 are also available to first-generation students.
The orientation experience helped to ease the nerves of Tyler Frazee of Middletown, Md.
“I am more excited than nervous, and I am ready to start taking care of myself and being responsible for myself in an academic setting,” said Frazee, who is majoring in violin performance at WVU in the fall. “I feel like I am cared about here, and not just a number.”
For more information on WVU’s New Student Orientation, visit http://orientation.wvu.edu/ .
By Colleen DeHart
WVU News and Information
CONTACT: Courtney Jennings, New Student Orientation
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