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Parental support for first-generation college students
by Valerie Smith Stephens, Ed.D., L.C.S.W. Minority Nurse Writer
For incoming freshmen, attending college can feel like entering a maze. But for first-generation students, that maze can have added twists and turns, as they may not have a role model or rule book to follow when starting out as a first-year student.
In turn, while parents are proud of their college-bound daughter or son, they too are unfamiliar with the road they are about to travel. Yet, parents can still offer ample support for students just by showing up at family orientation events, asking questions from the program staff, and seeking out other parents to share information, guidance, and direction.
In the Rutgers College of Nursing Educational Opportunity Fund (EOF) Program, parents are strongly encouraged to be a support base to their students. The EOF program has a Family Orientation Day where not only parents, but the entire family is invited to attend. Family Orientation Day provides an overview of what students are expected to do in the intensive six-week Summer Readiness Program. The College of Nursing has the only EOF program exclusively for nursing students in the state of New Jersey.
In 2011, parents were given a firsthand account from a parent whose daughter completed the summer program the previous year. She and her daughter spoke to the audience and answered questions. Additionally, the mother stayed through the entire day to privately speak to parents, many of whom indicated this was especially appreciated. Having a parent whose child went through the program offered them a sense of relief and comfort, making it easier to leave their daughter or son on campus.
At the end of the Summer Readiness Program, the students “graduate” to become members of the College of Nursing (Class of 2015). The students participate in a celebration entitled “Culture Kitchen,” where students and/or parents prepare a dish from their culture. It is truly a feast! Students represent many countries, and sampling the cultural cuisine is a cherished memory of the Summer Readiness Program. This past year’s program was especially gratifying because one parent insisted on being a part of the team in setting up the buffet table and working with the students and staff! It was important for her to become actively involved and not sit on the sidelines.
Perhaps the most moving part of the Culture Kitchen program is watching the students reflecting on their summer experience and seeing the proud faces of their parents. Students benefit from their parents’ support and involvement, and parents are encouraged to be a part of the students’ college experience. The EOF Program wants parents to feel welcomed; we understand the daunting process of wanting their child to be educated along with the difficulty of “letting go” so their daughter or son can progress into adulthood and become a distinguished nurse.