• Our Purpose

    We are four first-generation and/or low-income students (FGLI) who want to explore the FGLI identity at UVA. By participating in this course and conducting focus groups, we want to understand the diverse experiences of FGLI students at an elite university and use that valuable knowledge to drive future policy change. The vision is to make UVA a school in which FGLI students thrive.

    Stella Connaughton


    I am a second-year student from New York City. I am a prospective history double major and hope to attend law school. At UVA, I am on the University Judiciary Committee, the Virginia Review of Politics, and the Board of Elections. I also enjoy long walks, wasting time, and obsessing over UVA Basketball.

    Nick Figgins


    I'm Nick and I'm a third-year student from Stephens City, VA studying Mathematics and Computer Science in the College of Arts & Sciences. I was one of the notetakers for our focus groups.

    Tryston Raecke


    My name is Tryston Raecke and I am from Yorktown, Virginia. I am a third-year student double majoring in Astronomy-Physics and Mechanical Engineering with a minor in Architecture. Coming from a low-income/single-parent household, I wanted to explore methods to improve the institutional support in place for future students in similar positions, while both gaining an academic understanding of my experience and building community with a group that is typically unseen on grounds.

    Tiffany Thai

    Field Captain

    Hi there! I'm a second-year student hoping to double major in Global Studies Security and Justice and Sociology along with a minor in Urban and Environmental Planning. At UVA, I am involved in the Institute for Engagement & Negotiation, the International Center, Hoos First Look, and Madison House.

  • Eleven Unique Stories

    We conducted two focus groups in which we were able to collect eleven individual stories about their unique first-generation and/or low-income experiences. Here's a breakdown of the demographics:

  • Our Core Questions

    After discussing with our classmates and within our group, we decided that we wanted to explore the FGLI identity as it revolved around three specific points:


    1. How has your experiences 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?


    1. What are some of the ways your background as a first-generation or low-income student affected how you 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? Are the resources adequate?

    3. Could you describe your experiences with advising?


    1. What were some of your first experiences or impressions -- good or bad -- upon arriving at UVA?

    2. When you imagine "the UVA community," how would you describe or characterize the UVA community? And how does that fit with your definitions of community based on your earlier experiences?

  • Key Findings

    • Participants at times feel excluded from social events that require spending money, such as going to restaurants

    • They feel there is a trade-off between working to support themselves and being social with friends

    • They notice that students tend to self-segregate by race and income.

    • Some participants note finding those of similar income and backgrounds through cultural organizations


    “Poor people tend to be with poor people”


    We all wouldn’t be here unless we were somewhat resourceful enough”


    • Not knowing the level of difficulty to expect in courses here, some participants overloaded in credits their first semesters and were forced to drop courses or have their grades suffer.
    • Several of our participants were aware of several tutoring services offered at UVA but acknowledged that these options were nowhere near as good as some of the paid private tutoring sessions that some students were able to pay for. 
    • Other participants noted that due to the lack of good guidance from teachers in high school, they were surprised by how positive their experiences were with UVA professors.
    • We also found that many students wished for financial mentors or a list of faculty that were willing to be involved with FGLI students. 

    • Many participants felt nervouseness and a lack of preparation coming to UVA

    • Elements of the financial aid process were described as increasingly bureaucratic and alienating for first-generation/low-income students

    • For many participants, it was difficult to separate college life from home life. They felt like they had to always consider their family's needs.

    • Trauma was imbued through the process given the necessity to understand their parents’ difficult financial position in a way that is not the same for those who are not from an FGLI background

    Transition to UVA

    “As a person of color, it feels like we are doing double the work”


    “Going out of your comfort zone to do better for yourself”

    Ultimately, there is no monolithic first-generation and/or low-income experience but the individual experiences of FGLI students have developed in them certain traits that distinguish them from their peers: resourcefulness, independence, a strong work ethic, etc.

  • Where do we go from here?

    We heard their stories..what's next?

    Recommendations for UVA

    • One place for resources to be accessible for FGLI students
    • Financial advising for FGLI students

    • More aid for study abroad, J-Term

    • Specific advising tailored to FGLI students

    • More transparency and accessibility within the financial aid office

    • More support in regards to finding housing

    • UVA needs to actually dedicate money to FGLI students instead of flashy promises

    • Networking events for FGLI students

    Current Resources