This year, for the first time, The Center for Access and Success at Elon University is adding support services for any first-generation college student who is not affiliated with other programs such as the Odyssey Program. The Center is an office on campus to help higher education become accessible and navigable for students of all backgrounds.
The Center serves not only the students enrolled at Elon, but also the people in the surrounding community through initiatives such as The Village Project, Elon Academy and the Odyssey Program.
Oscar Miranda ‘17, assistant director for student access and support, was brought onto the access and support team this August to help kick-start the new first-generation support initiative.
“I’m here to execute the vision for this, but I think also, having been an alum, I got the chance to go through it and actually understand what it’s like to be a first-gen student,” Miranda said. “This new initiative… [is] really an opportunity for us to create what that brand looks like.”
One of the opportunities the office has made available are dinner receptions for first-generation students.
“It will be an opportunity for first-gens to meet one another and hear from senior staff members, several of whom are themselves first-generation. These senior staff members will share their first-generation college stories,” said Jean Rattigan-Rohr, vice president for The Center for Access and Success.
According to Miranda, First Generation Support Services aim to celebrate first-generation students and all that comes with their identity.
“The first-gen identity is invisible, so we are really hoping this gives students the chance to connect over that identity and see that the first-generation identities span far and wide,” Miranda said.
Miranda and other staff members at The Center are still brainstorming the structure of the program. Miranda said they have discussed ideas such as a first-generation graduation or pinning ceremony, financial literacy programs, forming first-gen allied groups and establishing alumni groups.
“Down the road, I hope to have some Elon 101 classes that are just first-gens,” Miranda said. “This new initiative is really targeted with a purpose to help support the first-gen community and empower them and, at the same time, help create a culture where the first-generation identity is celebrated.”
The Center for Access and Success also helps first-generation students succeed in college through the Odyssey Program and Elon Academy. Elon Academy is a college access program for low-income students that provides tools and information about college applications, financial aid and the transition into college.
When Superior Court Judge Howard Manning threatened to shut down a local high school in Alamance County for under performing in 2006, Elon reevaluated its place in its community, according to Rattigan-Rohr.
“How could Elon, a thriving institution with tremendous resources, reconcile its place in a community where only seven miles away a high school struggled to survive?” Rattigan-Rohr asked. “What could Elon, as an institution and as a society of individuals, do to address such a serious inequity?”
The Elon Academy is specifically for high schoolers in Alamance County with financial need or no family history of higher education to help them achieve a college education. Through summer programs and year-long Saturday programs, the Elon Academy helps advise students throughout each step of the college process.
“We want them to gain the academic strengths, interpersonal skills and sense of self-worth that will position them to succeed in college and beyond,” Rattigan-Rohr said. “We believe that with the proper support, every student who aspires to go to college can accomplish that goal.”
The Village Project helps preschoolers through 12th graders in the community surrounding Elon learn to read. Elon students and other volunteers tutor a child one-on-one every week at no cost to the family.
Since 2007, when the program began, over 1,400 students and their families have participated in the Village Project. In addition to reading, Elon also offers Music in the Village, Science in the Village and, new last year, Engineering in the Village.
The Odyssey Program is “a highly selective merit-based program consisting of talented individuals who are academically strong, civically engaged, action-oriented leaders in their communities, who will benefit from an Elon education and demonstrate financial need,” according to the program’s website. It is a four-year scholarship that incoming first-years apply for when they send in their initial admissions application.
“Odyssey provides opportunities and resources that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to have. Most of us are first-generation students, and it helps us navigate college because we don’t really have people in our lives that can help us navigate through college,” sophomore and Odyssey scholar Shreeja Shah said.
Through retreats, monthly meetings and a shared space in The Center for Access and Success, Odyssey scholars not only better navigate all that college entails but become a close-knit group while doing so.
“This is like family, it’s more than just being in a program with people,” said India Good, freshman, former Elon Academy student and Odyssey scholar.
Many Odyssey scholars said the program was one of the biggest factors in deciding what path to take out of high school.
“Having support is very important, and if I were to go to any other school, especially being a first-generation student, I would be lost. But I have this group of people that are my family that I can lean on for anything,” Good said.
The different programs within The Center for Access and Success may not overlap, but regardless of which program a staff member is an affiliate with, they are there to help any student.
“We are part of the Odyssey Program, but I could go up to anyone in this office that wasn’t even affiliated with Odyssey and they would help me out,” Shah said.
According to The Center for Access and Success, the office has a place on Elon’s campus to make Elon a community that more students can join with ease.