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Students walk to and from Bicentennial Hall, Middlebury's science building, one of many resources that participants will be introduced to during the College's new pre-orientation program for first-generation students.

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New Pre-Orientation Program for First-Generation Students Encourages Sense of Belonging

August 9, 2016


MIDDLEBURY, Vt. — This September Middlebury is offering a new pre-orientation program to support students who are the first in their families to attend college, also known as first-generation students. The program, called First @ Midd, is designed to help the new students feel welcome, get to know one another, and learn about academic expectations and the many resources available to them on campus. 

“First-generation students have consistently, and with increasing frequency, asked us to develop a pre-enrollment program,” said Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of the College Katy Smith Abbott. “From the outset, we want them to see the campus as their own. We also hope that the connections they form with one another during the program will continue to grow throughout the year.” 

Forty-four students will participate in First @ Middwhich will take place September 1–5. Organizers encouraged more than 70 students from the U.S. to attend the optional program. That figure does not include the total number of first-generation students in the incoming class since some, such as those who are also international students, have their own pre-orientation program. First-generation students make up 14 percent of Middlebury’s incoming class.

At First @ Midd, students will learn strategies on how to navigate the sometimes complicated social and academic aspects of college life. They will also connect with members of the College community who may be key to their success, from returning first-generation students who will serve as peer leaders to faculty members who will offer early advising. 

The new program’s workshops and educational activities will provide information on the many resources students can access, from health services, academic support, and study abroad opportunities to internships, work-study jobs, and faculty office hours. To keep the program fun as well as informative, a number of social events, such as a game night and a cookout, are included. 

Families who accompany students to campus are invited to participate in the program on September 1–2, when they can join such activities as meals and a campus resources walking tour. Faculty and staff will also discuss the expectations and challenges associated with the academic experience, and the support available to students. 

Following the departure of families on the morning of September 3, events include discussions—led by returning first-generation students—on the transition to college, a walking tour of the town of Middlebury, and a dance party. The full schedule is available here

Two of First @ Midd’s organizers, Roberto Lint Sagarena and Jennifer Herrera, are working to ensure that the pre-orientation activities will connect with Middlebury’s first series of yearlong programming for first-generation students, called First-Gen Experience. Lint Sagarena, professor and director of the Anderson Freeman Resource Center, and Herrera, associate director of the center, will oversee the events for this new program. Like First @ Midd, First-Gen Experience will take place annually, Lint Sagarena says. The goal is to extend the academic and social support of the pre-orientation program throughout college so that first-generation students return sophomore year and remain through graduation.

Since First @ Midd ends September 5, students who participate will also be able to join the weeklong orientation program for all new students that begins that day.

Along with Smith Abbott, Lint Sagarena, and Herrera, the program’s organizers include Chief Diversity Officer and Professor Miguel Fernandez, Assistant Director of Student Organizations and Orientation Roman Christiaens, and student interns Carolyn Murphy ’17.5 and Hayle Wesolowski ’18. 

5 Comments

Wow! I wish something like this has been available when I started. There was such a culture shock my first year at Midd. I'm glad these students will get the guidance they need to start off on the right foot.

by Cynthia (not verified)

Great program; could be useful for non-New Englanders also. When I came to Midd (1951) from Detroit, dorm mates found my accent funny, and my antique Underwriter typewriter a source of great amusement. It was wounding. I learned the city I was proud of was a little town in the sticks to New Englanders. I can relate to first generationers, and international students. The jockeying for position in the social hierarchy used to start quickly. Perhaps today's students are more cosmopolitan, but New Englanders may need an orientation of their own, learning that life is not an elevator as Sydney Harris used to point out....in order for you to go up, someone else doesn't have to go down! : ) Has anyone heard of Restorative Justice, a program designed to bring perpetrators and victims together to learn from each other, in Berkeley, CA area schools, 8th grade on? Learning how one wounds is no more important than learning how not to be wounded, and getting wounders and wounded together is a great way for each to heal the other. With the Black Lives/All Lives Matter prominence today, Midd surely has something similar to Restorative Justive.

by Julie Parker (not verified)

What a great idea! I would have benefitted from this too. I also think some diversity training for non first generation students in this area could be useful too.

by Melinda Morrrill (not verified)

Yall had ought to try coming to Middlebury in the early mid 1960's from Arkansas and Louisiana with a distinctly Southern accent, and a great grandfather who fought at Sharpsburg and Gettysburg -- in the Ahmy of Nohthuhn Vuhginia!

by Joseph F Foster (not verified)

As a first-gen at Brown, coming from Los Angeles, I could have used a program like this. College is intimidating for everyone, especially those whose families lack familiarity with it. The ironic drawback is that non first gen students may feel excluded when they encounter first gen students who have been through a bonding program the week before regular orientation starts. When I met my freshman roommate, she had already been at Brown for an entire week and made tons of friends from the Third World Transition Program. I was a complete outsider when I was around her. How did she have all these friends so soon? How did she know so much about our school when I could barely find the bathroom? She was already an expert on all things Brown; it was her school, and I was just intruding. The message I got was that the college cared about her and her needs because she was Asian and thus automatically Third World (though she came from New Jersey) and took me for granted because I was white. The irony was that she came from a long line of Ivy Leaguers. She would be just fine. I came from a long line of high school graduates from the West Coast. I was the one who needed help. And lots of it. Just what was a chicken cutlet anyway? Having a resource center and on-going support for First Gen students is a great idea. I'm not sure that a separate, pre-orientation is helpful for bonding the class as a whole. I fear it can immediately segregate students with a common background, thus reinforcing the perception that first gens are automatically outsiders and are more special than the rest of the students who have never been to college either. Everyone should start on an even playing field by arriving on campus at the same time. Then, should any first gen students want specific assistance, there is a center where they can go and a program in which they can participate. Regardless of all these good intentions, however, is the fact that real life doesn't give you pre-orientations. I figured out how to get into college without my parents' expertise, and I figured out how to navigate college -- sometimes even better than my legacy peers -- without too much help from my college. After all, Brown accepted me and every other student because we were smart and could solve and figure out a way to overcome our own challenges. I'm very proud of that accomplishment. In the long run, I think my own determination and resourcefulness served me better than any specially designed, pre-orientation program. Here's to a great first year to all newly-matriculated students! Sincerely, Ilene Gannaway, BLSE 2001

by Ilene Gannaway (not verified)

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