Students discussing the best way to impress professors at a Cardinal First event.

Cardinal First: Office of First-Generation Programs

Being the first member of your family to attend college is a big accomplishment and an exciting challenge. You will be traveling uncharted territory and will probably want some guidance. At North Central College we work together with first-generation students on their journey toward Commencement. We take pride in seeing you succeed. That’s why we offer Cardinal First.

Cardinal First is an award-winning program* that creates a community among our first-generation students, faculty and staff. We provide a structured approach to help you succeed in the classroom, get you involved with the campus, support your growth as a person and prepare you to apply what you’ve learned in the world around you.

There is no cost to join Cardinal First. Events are optional but strongly encouraged given the benefits involved. More than 400 North Central students are already participating in Cardinal First, and we would be happy to add you to our community.

Contact us at cardinalfirst@noctrl.edu or 630-637-5155 for more information or with any questions you have.

*Cardinal First received the 2018 Gold Award from NASPA, an international professional organization for student affairs.

Student Testimonials

Parent Testimonials

First-Generation Faculty

Cardinal First Outcomes

Cardinal First Events


North Central offers Cardinal First participants:

  • A built-in network of first-generation peers, ambassadors, faculty and staff who offer mentoring and support
  • The opportunity to apply for our renewable Cardinal First Scholarship of $500 beginning your sophomore year (see below)
Alexia Garcia ’17 puts on her Cardinal First pin at Commencement.
  • Free monthly interactive lunch workshops on what you need to know to succeed at North Central
  • First Gen Chem Program for first-generation chemistry and biochemistry majors spearheaded by Professor of Chemistry Jeff Jankowski
  • Health First Program for first-generation pre-health majors spearheaded by Pre-Professional Health Program Coordinator Marguerite Degenhardt
  • Teach First Program for first-generation education majors directed by Julie Carballo with faculty mentor Professor Maureen Kincaid
  • Continuing programs throughout your sophomore, junior and senior years, designed to oversee your progress and answer questions specific to your first-generation experience
  • A yearly planner and calendar to help keep you on schedule and stay on top of what’s happening on campus
  • An exclusive Cardinal First T-shirt
  • Leadership and training for Cardinal First Ambassadors beginning as sophomores

Pictured above: Alexia Garcia ’17 puts on her Cardinal First pin at Commencement.

Students in the First Gen Chem and Health First programs with their faculty advisors.

Cardinal First Scholarship Program


First-year, first-generation students who complete the Cardinal First program requirements during their first-year at North Central and have a GPA of 2.5+ will be eligible to receive a renewable $500 Cardinal First Scholarship for their sophomore, junior & senior years.

First-generation students listening to faculty advice during a Cardinal First event.

Scholarship Criteria

General Eligibility:

  • Must be a first-generation college student (neither parent has completed a four-year degree)
  • Must be full-time undergraduate student at North Central
  • Must have a cumulative GPA of 2.5+ at the end of your first year

Scholarship Requirements:

  • Attend and fully participate in seven of the nine monthly Cardinal First Friday workshops
  • Attend a résumé-writing workshop through the Office of Career Development
  • Submit a completed Cardinal First Scholarship application by the end of winter term of your first year
    • Application requires current résumé be attached
    • Application requires student to ask a faculty member to be a reference

Cardinal First Ambassadors


Cardinal First Ambassadors are leaders and mentors to our first-year, first-generation students. Ambassador candidates must be first-generation students, have a 2.75+ GPA, act in accordance with the North Central College handbook, and demonstrate a desire to improve leadership, interpersonal and communication skills. Responsibilities include participation in monthly leadership development workshops, mentoring and outreach to five to eight first-year, first-generation students each term, and serving as a table host at Cardinal First Friday workshops. There are currently 42 Cardinal First Ambassadors on campus. Contact Julie Carballo at jmcarballo@noctrl.edu for more information.

A group of Cardinal First Ambassadors.

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Follow Cardinal First and Teach First on Facebook and use #firstgen in your posts.