Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

UA works on finding a space for first-generation college students

CW / Shelby West

University of Alabama officials have made a concerted effort to make the University a more welcoming institution for first-generation college students.  

Despite this progress, however, some students still see room for improvement.  

At the University, first-generation college students are defined as any students whose parents did not graduate with a four-year degree in the United States. This includes students whose parents graduated with a two-year degree and students whose parents graduated outside of the United States.  

Legacy Scholars is a program for first-generation UA students. Randi Hamm is the first-generation program manager and has been in her position for a year now. 

“We find that first-gen students need a community in their first year so that they find the sense of belonging here at UA as quickly as possible, which is a basic need for all college students,” Hamm said. “We look at it as our first-gen students are creating a new legacy for their family and for anyone who’s going to follow behind them.” 

According to Hamm, first-generation students make up nearly 25% of the UA undergraduate population. 

Legacy Scholars holds community dinners, scholarship and FAFSA workshops, and, for the first time this year, a week of celebration for first-year students.  

Hamm said that it has been a challenge to share the program’s message and resources with sophomores and upperclassmen because before this year Legacy Scholars hadn’t existed in the same capacity. 

Hamm said that they were able to meet over 500 students during Bama Bound this summer and that Legacy Scholars has evolved its event itinerary.    

Along with Legacy Scholars, there is also a dedicated space on the third floor of Hewson Hall for first-generation students. 

For its efforts to support first-generation students, the University was recognized as a First-gen Forward Institution by the Center for First-generation Student Success in 2022.  

“The First-Gen Forward designation is a national honor that recognizes institutions of higher education who have demonstrated a commitment to improving experiences and advancing outcomes of first-gen college students,” Monica Watts, associate vice president of communications for the University, wrote in an email.  

However, first-generation students still have concerns about their place on campus. 

Applying to college and finding resources  

For some students, knowing about the college application process and the resources available to them once they arrived on campus was a challenge. 

Adriana Cadavid, a sophomore from Colorado Springs, is a member of Legacy Scholars who came to the University for its political science program.  

While applying to college, Cadavid relied on her counselors, peers and teachers for help because her parents didn’t attend college. 

Similarly, Meghan Kellem, a freshman majoring in business management, said that she was unsure of where to start when applying to college as a first-generation student and was unaware of the full extent of the opportunities that were offered at the University.  

Clarissa Ramos, a freshman majoring in Spanish and member of Legacy Scholars, said that while her time at Legacy Scholars thus far has been helpful, she wasn’t told about many opportunities for first-generation students on campus.  

Ramos also stated that she feels that most of the support first-gen students need but don’t get is support before setting foot on campus.  

“Making more prospective students aware of these opportunities and programs to help them thrive on campus can encourage them to see themselves here,” Watts wrote. 

Fourie van Rooyen is a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering. He went to high school in South Africa and said he applied to the University after a couple of friends recommended it.   

Rooyen said that during Bama Bound, scholarships for international and first-generation college students weren’t talked about. 

Similarly, Kellem said she isn’t aware of any scholarships available to her now. 

For first-gen students, there are six dedicated scholarships, which the University describes as “highly competitive.”  

Resources for first-gen students can be found on the Capstone Center for Student Success website. 

Hamm said that through Legacy Scholars, she tries to connect students to existing opportunities and resources that are in their specific colleges. 

Even when some first-generation students’ families are made aware of scholarship opportunities, not all of them may be able to understand them. 

Cadavid said that information about scholarships is offered only in English, but that it would be helpful for it to be in other languages. 

Hamm said that Legacy Scholars does not have any formal programming in Spanish but has several students who would be “more than happy” to help any student and their family who need communication in Spanish.  

“I think there’s always some more things that we could change because I’m not in any first-generation organizations on campus,” Kellem said. “I don’t receive as many of those resources and so I do think they should be more widely accessible to people who aren’t necessarily in those clubs or groups.”  

Support and community on campus  

Finding out how to fit in on campus was the biggest challenge, Ramos said. 

Some first-generation students have said that although their parents can offer a general sense of support, it is not the same support that students with college graduates in their family can receive. 

Adam Brooks is an associate professor of communication studies at the University and is a mentor for Legacy Scholars.  

“Sometimes first-gen students think that they have to solve all the problems themselves because they oftentimes don’t have that supplemental resource by their families to be able to call to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s happening,’” Brooks said. 

Hamm emphasized that the program is optional, but that she encourages students to join if they recognize its benefits. Hamm said that her goal is to develop a community of support that students can turn to and feel safe asking questions and expressing concerns. 

“I have a vision and dreams for the first-gen community at UA, and it’s been beautiful to be able to start to implement them,” Hamm said.  

Brooks said being a mentor for Legacy Scholars has a personal significance to him. 

“As a first-generation college student myself, who’s now a professor, it is a wonderful full-circle moment to be able to kind of be the support system that maybe I wish I would have had when I was a student,” Brooks said. 

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