Giving first-generation college students the tools they need to succeed

InsideTrack Coaches explain why one-on-one works

What are the strategies that help bolster the success rate of first-generation students? And what insights can we gain from experts dedicated to supporting first-gen students on their educational journey?

In a recent article in BizEd, an industry publication for business education leaders, two of our coaches weighed in on the best ways to support first-generation students. InsideTrack Coaches Cory Kirshner-Lira and Lisa Thompson offered their frontline perspective on what institutions can do to ensure first-generation students forge a path toward graduation.

Meet the insiders behind the insights.

Q&A with Cory Kirshner-Lira

Why is this topic important to you?

As the proud granddaughter of a farmworker and one of the first in my family to earn a college degree, I know that education changed the path and story of my family for the better. It was my family’s generations of experience with hardship and the lessons from those experiences that made me successful in college, not despite them. I am committed to always reframing the conversations about underserved students to highlight and focus on the strengths they bring to the table. I believe it is an injustice to our students as higher education professionals to only take a deficit approach to our understanding of underserved students’ path to success.

What do you like best about coaching?

All of it! I love that coaching can be a catalyst and powerful instrument for both student and institutional success that is connected to an unwavering belief that every person and every place is deserving of support and care and capable of growth.

What do you want institutional leaders to know about today’s students?

Our students are so incredibly hard-working and they are also very overwhelmed! What it was like to be a student five years ago, 10 years ago is exponentially different than it is today, which means we have to remain nimble and innovative in the ways we both engage with our students and also how we think about them. This means always working against our own biases on what we think engaged and committed students act and look like and this must include thinking through our racial, class, gender, able-body, etc biases.

Q&A with Lisa Thompson

Why is this topic important to you?

I was a first generation student myself. I am the daughter of immigrant parents who themselves didn’t get an opportunity to finish school. Our family valued education merely for the fact that we knew it was a means to improve our situation. With that, I was motivated to achieve the highest grades and get a college degree. Since I was the first in my family to do it, it was up to me to figure out how to go about choosing the right school and major and persist through it. Of course in hindsight I do have some things I would’ve done differently and I feel like with the support of a coach I could look back on my college education and feel more content that I got everything out of it that I could have. College provides such a rich opportunity to learn and I feel like I missed out on a lot of those situations. I grew up with a very fixed mindset about education: Do well academically and strong grades will get me success. Because of that I didn’t give myself a chance to take chances, make mistakes, and see the other possibilities out there. Despite all of that, I am still very proud of my accomplishments. However, I knew that I wanted to make a difference in my community and I felt like the best way to do that was to help others navigate the complex system of higher education and support them in making an informed decision that allows them to look back on this accomplishment and feel proud of the fact they got everything out of it they could have.

What do you like best about coaching?

Coaching is about looking forward and taking action towards your goals. It’s so easy for us to dwell on the past knowing what we know now. Coaching allows us to harness those insights and motivate us to make a change. I like that I have the opportunity to listen to people share their stories, what they hope to do next, and together we can define next steps. It could be an innate ability or one that I’ve developed over the years, but I feel like creating plans and taking action come naturally to me. I’m glad that my role allows me to utilize this skill so I can help others get a little closer to actualizing their goals.

What do you want institutional leaders to know about today’s students?

Student’s today are complex beings. There are lots of factors that weigh into their decision about going to school. For many, it’s not just about what major and how to pay for it. Rather, it also includes the the return on investment (what’s in it for me), ability to manage commitments knowing that many need to work while they’re also in school, and often sacrificing their own education for that of their children due to financial reasons. These more abstract items typically prevent someone from moving forward with a degree. It’s not only important to highlight the value of the program to prospects, but also to support them in addressing these other concerns and hesitations they have about college and the investment it requires.

Learn more about the game-changing work InsideTrack Coaches are doing with first-generation students and hear their take on today’s students.
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