North Central College has distinguished itself as a national leader in supporting first-generation students. The College won top awards at the 2018 Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (NASPA) conference held in Philadelphia.
North Central’s Cardinal First—a program for first-generation college students—received the elite Grand Silver Excellence Award and a Gold Excellence Award in a category focused on enrollment management, orientation and support.
“It makes me proud to work at an institution that values and prioritizes its student successes. The journey to a college degree is a road not travelled alone, and it is my privilege to walk alongside our first-generation students throughout their North Central College experience,” said Julie Carballo, director of the College’s First Generation Programs and coordinator for veteran and military student services.
“I’m hopeful that the recognition of Cardinal First will encourage and inspire other institutions to develop similar programs for their first-generation students,” said Carballo.
Cardinal First provides mentoring and support to the 40 percent of North Central students with parents who do not have four-year degrees from a college or university.
More than 400 students participate in Cardinal First. The program begins from their first day on campus and follows them all the way through graduation. Students receive guidance and chances to network at events specially designed for first-year students, sophomores, juniors and seniors, as well as a program for first-generation transfer students.
First-generation college graduates from the College’s faculty serve as facilitators at events, sharing their experiences and offering themselves as examples for students to follow. After their first year in the program, first-generation students are eligible to become Cardinal First Ambassadors, mentoring younger students. Together, faculty, staff and students form a network of peers, ensuring first-generation students a consistent source of support and answers for their questions.
“An important part of the program is the ongoing involvement of North Central’s first-generation faculty and staff and the leadership provided by the program’s ambassadors, making the awards a shared accomplishment,” said Carballo. “They all choose to volunteer and are instrumental to the success of Cardinal First.”
“Cardinal First gave me a support group I didn't know I needed,” says Andrianna Martinez, Class of 2019. “It’s something that keeps me engaged, reminds me why I'm at college and that I am not alone.”
First-year students gather at Cardinal First Fridays—monthly interactive lunch workshops that take students step by step through the first year of college life, covering topics such as time management, registration and building a winning résumé.
“The programming is intended to build community among our first-generation students, faculty and staff from their first day of college to their last,” said Carballo. “It connects them with resources, experiences, opportunities and network to help them thrive during their North Central experience and beyond.”
After first-year programming, students move on to Sophomore Suppers, Penultimate and Homestretch lunch workshops, offering support tailored to first-generation students even after they have become accustomed to North Central.
Cardinal First increases student engagement with the College. Since the program began in fall 2015, 95 percent of participants returned to North Central for their second year.
Cardinal First participants can also apply for a renewable $500 scholarship.
The program ends with a pinning ceremony the day before commencement. Students choose a faculty member that was influential to their experience at the College to present them a pin.
“I really wish we had a program like this when I was an undergraduate,” said Stephen Maynard Caliendo, dean of North Central’s College of Arts and Sciences, and active faculty mentor for Cardinal First students.
“One of the reasons I am teaching at a small school like North Central is that it gives me the opportunity to interact with students to a much greater extent than at a large school,” said Paul Brandt, professor of chemistry. “Cardinal First has student members that are probably not familiar with the way college 'works,’ much as I was not. I’m eager to help out students with any questions they have.”
The annual NASPA conference brings together more than 7,000 student affairs professionals from around the world. Gold winners from a variety of categories were further judged for the designations of Grand Gold, Grand Silver and Grand Bronze. Nominations are made through a regional selection process before being submitted for national consideration.
[Pictured from left to right: NASPA President Kevin Kruger, NASPA Board Chair Dr. Deb Moriarty, Cardinal First Director Julie Carballo and Past NASPA Board Chair Dr. Lori White. ]