North Central College supports first-generation students in transition to higher education

Apr 08, 2016

In any given classroom at North Central College, it’s likely that several students are the first in their immediate families to pursue higher education. About 35 to 40 percent of North Central students are first-generation college students—meaning, their parents do not have four-year degrees. And many of their professors were first-generation college students, too.  

North Central’s Cardinal First program is dedicated to establishing community, providing support and connecting students with campus resources and these professors. The first Friday of every month, Julie Carballo, director of first-generation programs, organizes “Cardinal First Fridays.” These are interactive luncheon workshops for first-year, first-generation students. A recent workshop, titled “Building a Winning Résumé,” included team exercises on how involvement and community service can distinguish students from their peers.

“The program is designed to help students thrive while they’re at North Central,” says Carballo. “We want them to start thinking early about different opportunities and view their status as a source of strength and a point of pride in their education,” she says.

The monthly workshops feature inspirational talks from first-generation faculty, including Jennifer Jackson, associate professor of English, and Brandon Sheridan, assistant professor of economics. At a recent workshop, Sheridan emphasized the importance of undergraduate research and explained opportunities for funding through the Richter Grant program. More than 50 first-generation faculty advise and mentor students at North Central.

Junior and senior Cardinal First ambassadors guide the group activities and act as a point of reference for first-year students. These roles facilitate peer mentoring and provide valuable leadership experience. Class of 2019 students who participate in at least seven of the nine workshops, maintain a 2.5-grade point average or higher and submit a résumé to Carballo are eligible to receive a $500 sophomore scholarship.

First-generation students express the sense of community that Cardinal First cultivates: “Cardinal First gave me a support group I didn’t know I needed,” says Adrianna Martinez ’19. “It kept me engaged and reminded me why I’m at college and that I’m not alone.”

“I enjoy Cardinal First because it’s a place where I feel comfortable,” says Emmanuel Chavez-Ortega ’19. “I’ve had a smooth transition to college from high school.”

Carballo also institutes programming for parents during summer orientation. The transition to college can be equally challenging for them, because they may be less familiar with the terminology of higher education. Carballo seeks to ease this transition by answering questions and describing the opportunities North Central has to offer. “Cardinal First levels the playing field between first-generation families and the greater campus community at North Central,” she adds.

By Lauren Baltas ’16

The following North Central faculty members were the first in their families to complete a four-year degree and now participate in the Cardinal First program: 

Dr. Paul Brandt, professor of chemistry                

Dr. Stephen Caliendo, professor of political science

Dr. Suzanne Chod, assistant professor of political science                             

Dr.  Jean Clifton, associate professor of management

Dr.  Tom Clifton, associate professor of Management Information Systems

Dr. Lou Corsino , professor of sociology

Dr.  Jerry Gems, professor of health and physical education

Dr.  Jennifer Jackson, associate professor of English

Dr. Jeff Jankowski, associate professor of chemistry

Mr. Chris Kardaras, adjunct assistant professor of computer science

Dr. Karl Kelley,   professor of psychology

Dr. Jennifer Keys, professor of sociology

Dr. Maureen Kincaid, professor of education

Dr. Lisa Long, professor of English

Dr. Nicole Rivera, visiting assistant professor of psychology

Dr. Shawna Rohrman, assistant professor of sociology

Ms. Kendall Selsky, instructor of health and physical education and athletic training clinical education coordinator               

Dr. Brandon Sheridan, assistant professor of economics