Cardinal First, North Central College’s program for first-generation college students, secured a $100,000 grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (AVDF). The grant will fund five new first-generation initiatives in 2020-21, including expanded leadership development for Cardinal First Ambassadors (student leaders in the program); outreach to future first-generation college students at 10 Illinois high schools, including nine local schools; a series of educational webinars designed for parents of first-generation students; the inaugural Cardinal First Alumni Academy; and further development of first-gen students by faculty in discipline-specific groups. The funding will also go toward the hiring of a temporary, part-time coordinator for these initiatives.
North Central Director of First-Generation Programs Julie Carballo feels this grant is the culmination of longtime goals for Cardinal First. “This funding will allow us to engage first-gen alumni and parents of our first-gen students in ways we've always wanted to, but not had the capacity or funding to do,” she said.
First-generation students make up approximately 40 percent of the North Central student body, with more than 110 College faculty and staff members also having been first-generation students. For that reason, Cardinal First is designed as a self-sustaining system, as participating students learn, grow and pass on what they have learned to younger students, often all at once. By extending the reach of Cardinal First into local high schools, Carballo says the program will make the shared experience that much richer.
“This is truly win-win because the high school students benefit more from a mentor who is a couple years ahead of them on the journey to a college degree rather than an ‘expert,’” Carballo said. “It's a tremendous opportunity for growth and leadership development for our current first-gen students. (It’s) empowering for them.”
The Cardinal First Alumni Academy will push the boundaries of first-generation guidance even further in the other direction, teaching students skills they will need after graduation and helping them build their professional networks.
“It will be in the format of a professional conference with concurrent sessions and a networking dinner that will incorporate professional dining etiquette instruction,” said Carballo. “Twenty (North Central) first-gen alumni will facilitate workshops and presentations related to their career fields … concurrently across campus. Our current first-gen students will select from among sessions of interest to them.”
The academy is tentatively scheduled for March 5, 2021.
Carballo was particularly grateful not only for the generosity of AVDF, but for the work of Director of Grants Shelly Galasso ’05 and her graduate assistant Angie Menefee ’20—a first-gen alumna—in securing the grant. Carballo isn’t ready to stop here, either. She says the initiatives Cardinal First has planned will provide a replicable model for other institutions looking to better serve their first-generation students.
“We have a growing list of ideas … designed to improve experiences and outcomes for our first-generation college students,” Carballo said. “(This grant) brings even more energy and enthusiasm to the growing first-generation initiatives on our campus.”