Feature News

Cardinal First program introduces new innovations to support first-generation students and their families

Jacob Imm

Jan 29, 2021

North Central College’s award-winning Cardinal First program, recognized nationally for excellence in service of first-generation college students, is using the virtual sphere to expand its offerings.

Capitalizing on resources earned through a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations in 2020, Cardinal First is reaching out to first-generation students as well as their parents and families. The program is using Facebook Live for a series of virtual workshops beginning in January 2021 and continuing through the spring semester.

“[Working with parents and families] is something I've wanted to do for many years and the response has been tremendous,” said Julie Carballo, director of first-generation initiatives. “I want the families of our first-gen students to know …  they are a part of the North Central family and we value them. The families of our students want them to succeed and these Facebook Live events will empower them with knowledge and ideas of how to effectively support their students and better understand their experience as a college student.”

Workshops will cover a variety of topics including financial aid, career development, education abroad and research opportunities, and many more. Parents and families will be able to put faces to names of faculty and staff working with their students, while experiencing their students’ planning and decision-making along with them.

Carballo explained that the idea for these virtual workshops developed even before COVID-19 required the majority of educational programming to be done remotely.

“The advantage (is) to be able to have parents join us live … from the comfort of their homes without having to clear their calendar,” she said. In addition, “the virtual format allows us to record the events and post them to our website so all parents and families can access the information and be involved with the initiative.”

Beyond outreach to parents, this spring Cardinal First is providing programs appealing directly to high school students thinking about college. The College has partnered with 10 high schools in the area to conduct workshops led by current first-generation North Central students. Prospective students will gain an authentic glimpse into what to expect from college from the people living it right now.

“We know that anyone visiting a new place or beginning a new journey benefits from a guide, especially a guide with whom they have something in common or who shares a similar background,” Carballo said.

These events are scheduled for spring semester, with plenty more in the works. They include sessions with faculty mentors, most of whom are first-generation college graduates, allowing first-gen students to meet faculty from their academic area of interest and get to know them as resources who can aid them in their future plans.

Perhaps the most highly anticipated event in the plan is the Cardinal First Alumni Academy. This will be a post-graduation-centered event, involving first-generation North Central alumni speaking on their professional success, providing guidance to help current students with their plans for the future, and sitting down to dinner with students so they can practice their networking skills. Carballo has scheduled the academy event for April and is hopeful it will be held in person.

Carballo is quick to point out how the grant from the Davis Foundations has been instrumental in allowing Carballo and the Cardinal First staff to push beyond what they thought was possible to offer students.

“Because these are all new initiatives and our first-gen programming was already very robust and facilitated by a small team, the grant funds a part-time administrative position to assist with the … initiatives,” Carballo said. “The new initiatives (are being) implemented without impacting the success and quality of the original Cardinal First programming.”