Project First Gen+ @ UVA
Who Are We?
I am a 3rd year first generation student from Woodbridge, VA majoring in biology on the pre-med track.
I'm a 3rd year from Culpeper, VA currently majoring in foreign affairs and am also a first-generation college student
I am a 2nd year FGLI student from Pittsburgh, PA! I am hoping to get into the Comm School!
What We Hope To Achieve
A Better Understanding
The purpose of our focus group was to learn more about the experiences and struggles of first-generation and low-income students.
To Create a Safe Space and Welcoming Community
UVA has a growing population of first generation and low income students. We want to provide others with resources that they can utilize to ease some of their struggles. By creating this network, we can support one another and share experiences.
We composed questions that we thought would best assess the participants' experiences and struggles.
Conduct Focus Groups
We conducted 2 focus groups in which the participants were more than happy to engage in and share their stories.
We looked for commonalities and unique stories throughout the responses we received.
The Three Main Areas We Focused On:
These questions surveyed participants' experiences with classes, majors, professors, advising, and resources.
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?
What are some of the academic resources you’ve used, if any, to support you at UVA?
a. Are the resources adequate?
Could you describe your experiences with advising?
These questions focused on financial insecurity and stress, opportunity costs from work and other time constraints, and institutional support and financial aid.
What are some of the ways financial concerns or stress arise for you (if they do)?
a. How does this affect your academic work?
If you have gotten a job since coming to UVA, what kind of jobs have you had and how did you find them?
If you’ve worked under federal work-study, what was your experience in finding eligible opportunities?
This cross-cutting topic examined future career and employment concerns.
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?
a. How have you navigated such concerns?
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?
" Coming in sort of blind because nobody has done it before, it’s very scary, it seems like everyone else is doing okay..."
"Office hours are always a hit or miss, usually a miss, big lecture hall office hours people are fighting for the attention of professors."
"They don’t take interest, you come in with a list of classes and then you leave."
Many participants did not feel prepared when coming to UVA. This was due to a variety of reasons such as: a subpar high school, no guidance from parents or guardians, and a lack of experiences that wealthier peers were able to take advantage of.
We found that a lot of participants do not take advantage of academic resources available to them. This was due to unawareness of these resources, or simply not having the confidence to reach out for help. Participants often found resources to be intimidating and some not helpful.
A general consensus was formed that advisors are useless. Some actively discouraged our participants, while others were submissive when concerns were brought up. Advisors did not care about what classes they were taking, as long as they fulfilled a requirement, the advising hold was lifted.
"I don’t have any textbooks for any of my classes. I'm not expecting all A’s or B’s, I couldn’t afford them. The gap wasn’t much but I can’t cover it, I might not stay the next year--I try not to think about it..."
"Even when I applied to jobs I was qualified for I just didn’t get replies...It feels like you’re just getting automatically sorted"
"I didn’t feel ashamed of my background until 2 months into UVA"
Participants constantly are worried about their financials. Most chose to attend UVA due to the financial aid package that they received, but that often is still not enough. Peers usually do not understand why they cannot join in activities and nights out due to financial strains.
Most of our focus group participants held at least one job. The money earned at these jobs was often sent home to their families to help relieve financial strains, or used for necessities such as food and rent. Having a job put strains on their school work and social life, as it significantly reduces free time.
Federal Work Study?
Most of our focus group participants found that it was extremely difficult to find work-study jobs. Often they applied to 15+ positions without hearing back from the employers. However, one plus is that you usually get to work on school assignments while at work study jobs.
"Its not what you know but who you know, I have no idea what I want to do, if I decide to follow something that I like will that get me employed when i graduate? There is no point in me getting a diploma to get less than what my dad makes"
"[referring to leveling the playing field] No, they’ve have a head start, institutionally they’ve had a head start"
"We’re going through the same path but our perspectives are different, it will really shape our experience"
Concerns about future?
Participants are concerned about getting a job after UVA. Although UVA's reputation helps in the process, FGLI students do not have the same connections that their peers have, which makes it harder in finding positions.
Did it level the playing field?
Most found that receiving an education from UVA does not level the playing field. Even though participants feel that they are moving up the ladder, they still have fewer connections and opportunities available to them.
So What Should UVA do?
FGLI students are looking for more institutional support in order to feel as though they have a place at UVA. We hope that the following ideas can be considered:
Current Resources for FGLI Students: