The FIRST program at OCU was created to help first-generation college students find a community and a support system throughout their time on campus until graduation.
Levi Harrel, assistant director of student development, said the program is in its third year and focuses on helping first-year and first-generation students get adjusted at school.
“What we realized from looking at our own institutional data was that less than 50 percent of our students who self-identified as first-generation college students were graduating,” he said. “We realized that we needed to support these students in more directed efforts.”
Destini Carrington, psychology sophomore, said the program was beneficial to her.
“FIRST gave me the opportunity to connect with a group of peers automatically when coming into my freshman year,” she said.
She also said the program is wonderful because it gives students the opportunity to have someone there for them when they don’t have someone to talk to about college.
Kyle Hoyle, business administration and management sophomore, said the program helped him adjust to college and make new friends.
“I’m not usually one to step out of my comfort zone, but this program has given me the confidence I needed to become my true self,” he said.
Although the program has been around for a short time, 90 students participate.
“Students who self-identify as first generation are automatically enrolled the program. They are automatically connected with a mentor, and, throughout the year, we have both social and educational programming that those students are invited to,” Harrel said.
The bonds she made her freshman year are still existent, Carrington said.
“Even now, the mentors still check in on us to see how we are holding up,” she said.
Hoyle said he enjoyed the social events in Walker Hall because they connected him to other first-year students and showed him that he was not alone in the college experience.
“This program made me realize that OCU is truly my home, and my friends are now my family,” Hoyle said.
Each semester, FIRST hosts an open house, a midterm study party and an end-of-the-year celebration. They also have an educational event led by Mary Benner, director of global engagement, on the importance of studying abroad and how students can get involved, as well as an event led by Career Services about resume building and internships.
Harrel said the program is open to any student that thinks they could benefit from the program’s services.
Carrington said the relationships they make can lead to even better connections and future recommendations.
“The success of my first year stems from the contributions of this program,” Hoyle said. “It will serve as a catalyst for completing my degree.”