Spotlight for Career Services ProfessionalsAugust 20, 2014
After extensively researching the characteristics, needs, and retention factors associated with first-generation (G1) college students, Merrimack College’s O’Brien Center for Student Success developed and executed a support initiative called Generation Merr1mack that aligns with the college’s strategic plan.
“Generation Merr1mack is a holistic support initiative designed to assist G1 college students in their transition into, and through college,” explains Heather Maietta, associate vice president of career and corporate engagement and director of the O'Brien Center for Student Success.
“Generation Merr1mack provides academic and social integration support on the front end of college, as well as actively infuses experiential learning, career preparation, and professional connections throughout the undergraduate experience. The initiative serves as a feeder for career-related events and activities. A strong, well-informed, well-connected postgraduate transition is the emphasis for the final year.”
Based on the definition of “first-generation college student” as a student who had “neither parent graduate with a bachelor’s degree,” approximately 40 percent of Merrimack’s student body is made up of G1 college students.
“We flag students as G1 when admitted, so they are automatically enrolled, but invited and encouraged to take an active part,” Maietta says. “The success of our program is our ability to gather data from a multitude of sources, such as the registrar’s office and admissions, and outreach from there.”
Maietta explains that much of the research that has been done on G1 college students focuses on the transition into college and persistence through the first year. Her research goes beyond the first year, focusing on long-term persistence and postgraduate transition needs of G1 college students.
“This research, along with other studies, student voices, and stories, informed our work,” Maietta says. “We asked ourselves what we can do to implement an initiative that will work to cover many of the apparent needs of G1 college students throughout the entire undergraduate experience and into their postgraduate destination.”
Generation Merr1mack was launched in fall 2012. Participants are encouraged to take advantage of its programmatic features, including:
Generation Merr1mack expanded in fall 2013 to include second-year G1 students and fall 2014 to include all junior G1 students.
“Essentially, the program is growing and expanding with the inaugural Class of 2012,” Maietta says.
Expansion from 2012 to 2013 showed:
In addition, 42 percent of students supported by Generation Merr1mack used the O’Brien Center by visiting for appointments and/or career lab.
“Next year, the initiative will be in its fourth year, so we will be able to track long-term outcomes and tie these outcomes to graduation rates, and first-destination outcomes,” Maietta notes.
Program directors also found that after being supported in their first year, many G1 college students express interest in becoming a Generation Merr1mack peer mentor in their second year.
“Word of mouth promotion is very powerful,” Maietta says. “We have champions in both student leaders and senior leaders. For example, Tia Roy, now a Merrimack senior and G1 college student found her passion in working with G1 college students, and has been instrumental in the successful execution of this initiative. And Merrimack’s president, Christopher Hopey, is an advocate for experiential learning as a complement to the academic experience.”
Maietta offers several tips to colleagues who are considering implementing a similar program for G1 college students:
For more information, visit the Generation Merr1mack website at www.merrimack.edu/generationmerrimack.
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