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GEN 1 program connects first-generation students with graduates

2020-08-19-Gen 1 mentors
UNG's GEN 1 program launched its inaugural cohort with 40 trained mentors and 40 mentees in August 2020. Three of the mentors are Tuwanda Wilson, assistant director of Student Involvement; Jennifer Herring, special assistant to the vice president of the Gainesville Campus; and Kyle Murphy, coordinator for Multicultural Student Affairs and Latino Success. The GEN 1 program connects first-generation students with first-generation faculty and staff members through formal mentoring opportunities.

Rebecca Conneely can easily recount her first day of college in Missouri with her parents in tow, even though it was more than four decades ago. The first-generation student was expected to complete a round of tasks. One was to visit the bursar's office, which is similar to the business or finance office.

"We didn't know what a bursar was, and we were reluctant to ask questions," she said. "It was a little embarrassing, because I didn't know where I was supposed to be."

As a mentor with University of North Georgia's (UNG) GEN 1 program, Conneely hopes to alleviate any feelings of embarrassment or ignorance for first-generation freshmen this fall on UNG's Gainesville Campus.

"I can get in touch with that lost freshman who didn't have a support system and help new first-generation students at UNG, which is at the heart of this new program," said Conneely, a Title III activity coordinator with University College at UNG.

UNG GEN 1 is designed to connect first-generation students with successful first-generation faculty and staff members through formal mentoring opportunities, said Jennifer Herring, special assistant to the vice president of the Gainesville Campus and a first-generation college student. She explained remarks from Dr. Richard Oates, vice president of UNG's Gainesville Campus, during the First-Generation luncheon in November 2019 sparked the idea for GEN 1.

"By proactively supporting first-generation college students, UNG helps them develop a sense of place or belonging, which is essential in building confidence," Oates said. "This 'I belong,' and 'I can do this' mindset is the foundation for a successful college experience."

A committee was formed to construct the GEN 1 program. Its members were Conneely; Herring, who also serves as a mentor; Dr. Alyson Paul, associate vice president of Student Affairs and Dean of Students on the Gainesville Campus; Dr. Carol Adams, associate vice president and dean of University College; Glen Harris Jr., coordinator for Student Case Management; and Mark Mobley, director of CenterPoint in Gainesville.

The program launched its inaugural cohort with 40 trained mentors and 40 mentees in August 2020.

"Mentors can eliminate the myths and stigmas around asking questions and align them with people who can answer them," Paul, a first-generation graduate, said. "Our mentors will make these students feel welcome and feel like they belong."

Helping the first-generation students succeed is the foundation of the GEN 1 program.

"I know some of the pitfalls of the first semester that many first-generation students face," Conneely said. "I want to remove some of those hurdles and be the person who has the knowledge and advice they might not have."

 Adams said initiating the GEN 1 program is indicative of UNG's commitment to serve students of all backgrounds.

"We are looking at students and trying to meet their needs where they are," she said. "The fact that we had so many faculty and staff raise their hand to serve these students reflects on who we are as an institution."

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