Every year, throughout the state, Ivy Tech offers a pledge for students to sign as a promise to graduate. This year, however, was a little different. The student life directors from across the state joined together to come up with something encouraging for the group with the lowest graduation rate, first generation college students.
As a first-generation college student herself, April Gabbert-Strang, Director of Student Life, Development, and Leadership at Ivy Tech Valparaiso, knows that getting resources to first generation college students is of the utmost importance.
“We went to a virtual pledge and noticed not as many students were signing,” said Gabbert-Strang. “So what we decided to do this year, as a statewide initiative, was take that pledge and focus it on first generation students, mainly because we noticed that they have the highest dropout rate.”
While brainstorming new ideas for the “commit to complete,” one student life director told the rest just how many first-generation students she had. It wasn’t long before the rest of the directors, including Gabbert-Strang, started to follow suit.
“We’ve never really shined a spotlight on what portion of our students are first generation and what we might be able to do with them that’s a little bit different,” said Gabbert-Strang. “So when we started talking about how to revamp the ‘commit to complete,’ we all sort of had an ‘aha’ moment.”
With a different brand of difficulties in place than most students, first generation students are often the first to put their education last. This is why Gabbert-Strang, along with Ivy Tech as a whole, have vowed to help them put it first.
“No matter what age you are, if you’re a first-generation student then you’re going through different things than what your family is familiar with,” said Gabbert. “We want to make sure they have awareness of the different kinds of services and things that we can provide to make that first gen experience a little less strenuous.”
It can be hard to be a first-generation college student, that’s why Gabbert-Strang wants the students at Ivy Tech Valparaiso to know that she’s here to help.
“You realize, and students will tell you, that their families don’t really understand why they have to study so much or why they have an eight to 10-page essay due and they can’t be bothered right now,” said Gabbert-Strang. “We have to devise ways and plans to help them out and make sure they know that there are services here to help while they’re going through any trials or tribulations.”
The event took place on November 12, and offered 16 different four-year transfer institution booths, tutoring, disability services, and a life coach. Gabbert-Strang hopes to do a First Gen Observation Week in the spring – COVID-19 pending – on a larger level on campus.
Gabbert-Strang asks that if any students have suggestions on what they would like to see during that week, she is always open to ideas. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There is still time to enroll in classes that start this January. Ivy Tech is virtually hosting Express Enrollment Week December 1-4. Those interested can RSVP and learn more at ivytech.edu/EEDay.