Navigating the “Hidden” Terrain: Mentoring First-Generation College Students
Lisa A. Kirby, Ph.D., Professor of English and
As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to have many incredible mentors who helped guide my academic journey. These professors offered advice and encouragement in terms of my writing, critical thinking, and research. There is no question their support helped in my academic success and eventual admission to graduate school.
However, there was one aspect of mentoring that was missing: as a first-generation college student, I was unfamiliar with many aspects of academic culture, and this was never discussed. Today, as a professor of English at a two-year college, I find this is true with many of my own students as well. As the Center for First-Generation College Student Success points out, in first-generation college students, there exists the “possibility that a student may lack the critical cultural capital necessary for college success because their parents did not attend college.”?While many first-gen students have done well academically, the transition to college may be a rocky one if they are not familiar with the “tangled web of college policies, procedures, jargon, and expectations… This pervasive ‘hidden curriculum’ can damage the confidence of first-generation students, lead to struggles in belonging, and result in departure” (Center for First-Generation College Student Success, 2017).
My own mentoring strategy focuses on first-generation college students and bringing attention to these “hidden” aspects of the academy. For those who may be interested in mentoring first-gen students, I offer some strategies I use to help these students navigate what is often an uncertain academic terrain.
First-generation college students may be academically solid, yet often they have never had exposure to elements of academic culture that many faculty take for granted. This can create serious obstacles to their academic success. By following these strategies, I hope to help mentor these students and help them navigate the academy more successfully.
Center for First-Generation College Student Success (2017, November 17). Defining First-Generation. https://firstgen.naspa.org/blog/defining-first-generation.