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 March 3-7 in Philadelphia. The annual conference brings together more than 7,000 student affairs professionals from around the world.
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. Gold winners from a variety of categories were further judged for the designations of Grand Gold, Grand Silver and Grand Bronze. The awards were presented at a March 6 luncheon. Nominations are made through a regional selection process before being submitted for national consideration.
“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 is designed to mentor and support students whose parents do not have four-year degrees from a college or university.
More than 400 students participate in Cardinal First. The program engages first-generation students from their first day on campus through graduation with a culminating event—the Cardinal First Graduation Recognition and Pinning Ceremony. There are distinct programs for first-years, sophomores, juniors and seniors, along with a program for new first-generation transfer students. Each program has a built-in network of first-generation peers, ambassadors, faculty and staff who offer mentoring and support. Cardinal First Ambassadors are upper-class students who volunteer to be mentors.
“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 participate in Cardinal First Fridays—monthly interactive workshops that cover topics like 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.”
In addition to the first-year programming, students attend Sophomore Suppers as well as Penultimate and Homestretch lunch workshops, offering students a chance for networking and professional development up until graduation.
Since the program launched in fall 2015, 95 percent of Cardinal First participants return for their second year at the College.
Cardinal First participants also have the opportunity to apply for a renewable $500 scholarship.
“Since implementing the scholarship, involvement in the program has steadily increased with more than 100 first-year students attending Cardinal First Fridays,” said Carballo. “In addition, more than 100 sophomores have engaged with the Sophomore Suppers.”
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.
For Paul Brandt, professor of chemistry, “One of the reasons I am teaching at a small institution such as North Central is that it gives me the opportunity to interact with students to a much greater extent than at a large institution. 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.”
[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. ]