First@Colgate Program Aims To Support First Generation Students

Following the success of its five-year pilot, First@Colgate will become a permanent campus program, bridging together the Office of Undergraduate Scholars and the First Generation Initiatives Program to offer a supportive and engaging community to first-generation, BIPOC and low-income students on campus. 

First@Colgate aims to support more than 300 students through both a summer pre-orientation program and ongoing support throughout the year. Students are encouraged to engage in the program through social events, leadership opportunities and formal mentoring.  

Assistant Dean of Administration Advising RaJhai Spencer will head the program alongside the Dean of the Faculty and Dean of the College divisions. Spencer identified the pilot’s sense of community as a particular strength of the program.

“One of the strongest pillars of the pilot program was the sense of community that was built. As we expand the First Family we want to ensure that this close-knit community is not lost,” Spencer said. “We are busily working behind the scenes to lay a strong foundation for next semester. This work includes building out next year’s budget, launching a search for our new Assistant Director, collecting responses from our student needs assessment survey, interviewing potential student program assistants and identifying alumni and key stakeholders to support and elevate First@Colgate through service on our first-gen advisory board.”

Sophomore Janiiya Hart, a first-generation student involved in First@Colgate, noted how successful the pilot program was in helping her find her place on campus.

“The program is actively facilitating community and telling us we have a community on campus,” Hart said. “They’re there to help and that’s invaluable.”

Junior Hilary Almanza also highlighted the program’s sense of community as one of the most invaluable features, particularly in context with the exclusive culture on Colgate’s campus. She noted the importance of having a support system specifically targeting first-generation, BIPOC and low-income students.

However, as Almanza and Hart see the pilot program come to a close, both express concern over how the program will inevitably change through the rapid expansion of the community in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis.

Hart discussed her love for the pilot program in context with the stagnation of the development of the program during COVID-19. Although Hart herself has been supported, she notes how future Colgate students may not be. 

“We want to make sure [the administration] doesn’t cheat BIPOC students, as that is something that is very common not only in [Predominantly White Institutions] PWI’s like Colgate, but also throughout society too,” Hart said.

Almanza expressed a similar sentiment. 

“I normally wouldn’t agree to do this interview, but I think that this program is something that’s very near and dear to our hearts as first-gen students, and I really want it to become something special in the way that OUS is,” Almanza said.