First In Line helps first-generation college students at Baylor

Moorestown, N.J., freshman Alessandra Parrillo and Kenansville, Fla., freshman Cade Cowart are both members of the First In Line program. First In Line helps first-generation college students acclimate to college life. Photo by: Sarah Pyo

For many first-generation college students, the transition to college can be challenging. In response, Baylor created the First in Line program to help new Bears easily adjust to life as a Baylor student.

The program began with a task force in the spring of 2014. Damian D. Lane, First in Line outreach specialist, said Baylor noticed the retention rate for first-generation students was lower than those who are not the first in their family to attend or graduate from college. He said Baylor wanted to do something to show support for this unique population.

Students in the program can participate in the First in Line summer advantage program, get help on the next steps to take after being accepted to Baylor, utilize resources on financing college and receive help with achieving their academic goals.

Capri Woolridge, First in Line AmeriCorps VISTA, said the program is important for first-generation students because it can serve as a knowledge base if students don’t have a parent they can go to about common issues they can face in college.

“First in Line acts as a go to person, so a lot of first-generation students may not know where to go to ask for help,” Woolridge said. “We just want to give them a safe place to go and do that and so our offices are open for that purpose.”

Before the school year started, the program organized a summer advantage program. Students had the opportunity to take six hours of course work, develop relationships, meet faculty and become familiar with Baylor’s campus and its traditions. This past summer, 30 first-generation students took part in the program, which took place during the second summer session of the semester.

To become part of the summer advantage program, students need to be incoming freshmen at Baylor, be the first person in their family to going to college and apply to be in the program.

Moorestown, N.J., Freshman Alessandra Parrillo said the summer advantage consisted of her going to classes and bonding with her mentor.

“She was super funny and she made the whole summer really fun,” Parrillo said. “Even when we were doing things we didn’t want to do, she kind of turned everything fun.”

At the summer program, Parrillo said got acclimated campus ahead of time, made friends and got a taste of what college classes are like.

“They had people come and talk to us from financial aid, study abroad [and] all different kinds of people,” Parrillo said. “They helped us learn everything about what Baylor has to offer.”

In addition, to taking classes, students were also required to attend mandatory study halls five days a week.

“It was good because everyone was taking almost the same courses and I found study buddies through that,” Parrillo said. “Now I have friends from the First in Line program I study with.”

Kenansville, Fla., freshman Cade Cowart said the summer advantage program helped students who participated get to know the campus better, resources they could use and find out who and where to find help.

“I figured I need to get here and learn my way around, so I don’t look like the awkward little freshman on the first day,” Cowart said. “It really helped me prepare myself personally as far as what I needed to bring to the table as college classes go.”

Cowart added that the summer advantage program also helped him adjust to college faster as well.

“When I came back out for the fall I wasn’t homesick and it helped me get to know the campus a bit better,” Cowart said. “Some of my best friends are first-generation students that I met so it helped me adjust as far as friendship.”

Cowart said the program helped him come out of his shell.

“I was really shy and nervous about college,” Cowart said. “Now I’m like, ‘I got this, there’s nothing to worry about.’ It’s college, it’s not a big deal. I know what I’m doing.”

Georgetown freshman Frances Prewitt said she decided to be part of the First in Line program so she could get ahead since none of her family has been to college.

“It seemed like a good idea to try to get as many hours as fast as possible,” Prewitt said.

Prewitt added that first-generation college students on campus look into joining First in Line because it helps them meet new people and upperclassmen who can offer assistance, and it’s a way to form long lasting friendships in the program.

Prewitt said it’s weird to think about how she’s the first person in her family to go to college, but that she is also proud of her title.

“It makes me super happy because I feel like I am carrying my last name and showing I’m finally going to college,” Prewitt said.

“It’s just knowing that I need to step up my game because I’m the first person in my family to go to college and I need to prove everyone wrong.”

Woolridge said she hopes that First in Line will continue to grow and that more students will take part in the program and what it has to offer.

“[I hope] we get more programming and we are able to do more things on campus and really just raise awareness of what a first-generation students is,” Woolrige said.