• Who We Are and What We Do

    We are four students who are passionate about making UVA a place where first-generation and/or low-income students thrive. We had the opportunity to conduct focus groups and learn more about the FGLI identities of the students here. Below, you can see our research.

    Sabrina Baldassarre


    Hello! My name is Sabrina and I'm a third-year from Cape Coral, Florida! I'm double majoring in Computer Science and Cognitive Science in the College. I participate in the Korean Student Association and Questbridge on Grounds. You can also find me in the Thornton Stacks TAing for CS 2110!

    Heaven Begum

    Field captain

    Hey there! I am a second-year from Waterbury, CT. I intend on majoring in Global Developmental Studies with a concentration in Security & Justice with a double minor in American Sign Language and Philosophy. I am involved with QuestBridge, Hoos First and DEAFs and a few other things around grounds!

    Sambriddi Pandey


    Hi! I’m a second-year from Oakton, Virginia, currently on the pre-commerce track. I was originally born in Nepal, and moved to the states when I was four. At UVA, I volunteer in Madison House’s CASH program, serve as an analyst in The Virginia Venture Fund, and am the Treasurer of Hoos First Look and Second Year Council. I love to follow current events, watch documentaries, and am a big fan of rap music.


    Danny Rivera


    Born and raised in West Palm Beach, Florida, I chose UVA because I knew I wanted to get away from home and dip into a melting pot of cultures, experiences and knowledge. I’m a third-year hoping to go to law school while pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Government. I recently joined the racquetball club and hope to explore some of the many other clubs on Grounds!


  • Focus Group Overview

    The development of our focus group included steps of planning, execution, and assessment. This tri-fold process encompassed a great deal of research, group discussions, and debrief as the questions and stories uncovered from our focus groups were profoundly personal and required a great level of care, in particular, the assessment stage.



    In preparation for our focus group, we brainstormed sets of potentially relevant questions to ask participates. Upon doing so, we condensed the selected questions and edited each to be easily communicated. This involved making sentences more concise and open ended.



    During our focus groups, we loosely followed a script that included the questions selected in the planning stage. We ensured to ask as many of the questions possible in the time frame allotted, while also sharing our personal stories to encourage discourse. Throughout this time, we also had designated note takers that were responsible for recording everyone’s contribution in the conversation.



    In this stage, we reviewed all notes and discussed our experiences with the execution process. As a group, we reflected and picked out common themes among participants and identified what might have influenced these. Ultimately, we evaluated what went well and where we could improve.

  • Core Questions

    We had three main focuses of our research: academics, community, and post-graduation life. Below, we share the questions we asked our participants.


    1. What are some of the ways your background as a first-generation or low-income student affected how prepared you felt for your UVA classwork?

    2. What are some of the academic resources you’ve used, if any, to support you at UVA?


    1. How has your experience as first-generation or low-income affected your relationships with peers and your social integration into the UVA community?
    2. Thinking about your home and family community as it relates to your community within UVA, do you see a relationship between these communities -- for example, do they overlap and reinforce one another or are they in tension?

    Future Endeavors

    1. 1. As a first-generation or low-income student, do you have concerns about your post-UVA future that you think are different from your continuing-generation or wealthier peers?
    2. A college education is supposed to be a source of economic mobility for first-generation or low-income students. Do you feel like your experience at UVA is helping to level the playing field for future success relative to peers?
  • Focus Group Participants

    A breakdown of the demographics of the students we had the privilege of speaking with.


    Almost all of the students who participated in our focus groups were female.


    We were able to see large range of diversity among our focus group participants and this allowed us to learn more about the FGLI identity as an intersection of many other identities, as well.


    The large majority of the students who participated in our focus groups were upperclassmen, with almost half of them being in their third-year in college. The differences in the ages we interviewed allowed for very diverse opinions of UVA.


    This is the breakdown of the schools students are currently enrolled in. The majority of students were enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. It should be noted that about 57% of the students in the College were on the pre-med track and 14% were on the track to apply for the McIntire School of Commerce.

  • Focus Group Data

    In our focus groups, we focused heavily on two different topics: community and academic fluency, with an additional cross-cutting question regarding life after college. Below, we have summarized the data that we collected and recounted some of the responses we received during our focus groups.


    • As first-generation college students, many of the participants in our focus groups came from communities where they served as not only the first in their families to go to college, but also the first to do so within their communities. 
    • Multiple students in our focus group discussed this feeling of connection and motivation to succeed as being something that is “difficult” at times due to the great level of commitment and responsibility that they feel. 
    • Many of the students discussed how their communities back home were also low-income and their peers would also fall under the umbrella of first-generation, yet when coming to a place like UVA and seeing the wealth and high level of educational backgrounds of their peers, they felt “out of place” or “detached” due to their socio-economic status compared to the majority of their UVA peers. 

    “No one talks about being low-income [because] most people at UVA are rich. I came into UVA thinking the black community was also like me, but it wasn’t. It’s hard to bridge that gap in wealth at UVA.” 



    "It was different when I got to UVA because [it's] super liberal and they push you beyond your boundaries thinking-wise. You gain a level of passion and acknowledgement of things. It is important to give people back home this knowledge, too."

    "I didn't come into my identity as a first-generation student until my second year. I assumed at first that my inability to perform well first-year was due to [my academic] abilities but I only realized during second year that it was due to the environment that I was in."


    • Though the University provides financial support and promises to meet 100% of a student’s financial need, it is not the only thing students struggle with. Multiple students we spoke with recounted their first days of college and not understanding why their peers lined up to speak with the professors on the first day of class or extensively lined up for office hours. These instances alone intimidated them from seeking help from their professors when they needed it and they often struggled in silence. 
    • Some of the students we had spoken with noted the negative impact of the competitive academic culture on Grounds and struggled to seek help from friends, teaching assistants, even after receiving a poor grade.

    Future Endeavors

    • A trend we noticed in our focus groups was a deep fear of life beyond college in regards to internship and job security. 
    • Some of our participants noted that they felt they were at a greater disadvantage than that of their wealthier peers due to not being able to afford to work at an unpaid internship, which is common in certain fields. 
    • In addition to that, most of our participants had duties they must fulfill back home that prevented them from finding summer internships. 
    • Coming in as an FGLI student, a lot of our participants mentioned a struggle with finding connections (networking) with others that could have been beneficial when job-searching. 

    "A [college] education is leveling out the playing field— it's giving us the opportunity to explore past what we've been used to. It's allowing us to pave the way for future generations. I'm thankful to Jim Ryan for giving us a voice and it makes me want to [continue] building these bridges."


  • So Where Do We Go From Here?

    Now that we've gathered this data, what can we do with it?


    So now that we have all of this information, where do we go from here? The first step is making sure UVA is providing its FGLI students with the appropriate resources to do well in an academic setting and social setting. We need more visibility for the currently available resources here on Grounds, as well as the creation of additional resources that can provide emotional support. With this in mind, we propose a peer-mentoring program for all incoming FGLI students.


    In one of our focus groups, a student recommended the University relocate Carruthers Hall, UVA's financial aid building. They believed the lack of accessibility spoke volumes of how UVA thought of the students who require financial aid to attend.

    Policy and Change

    The next steps we must take are rather large, but we know they can be done. If UVA wants to be a great and good university, policy must change and must be implemented that supports FGLI students.


    We ask that UVA overlook its academic advising programs and its longstanding tradition of student self-governance in order to see how these systems can and are negatively impacting the experiences of FGLI students at the University.


  • Contact Us

    Thank you so much for taking the time to read through our research. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or suggestions please get in touch with us down below.