Hi everyone. And welcome to this week's episode of the Online Roadmap Podcast, WVU Online's own podcast series. Today, I would like to welcome Michelle Peyton. She is the coordinator of the First-Generation Initiatives Within the Office of Student Success. So welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me today.
We're excited to talk to you. I always like if our guests do a little introduction of themselves and really just who you are, what you do at the university. So if you want to just start with. And then we'll go along with some questions we have for you. Sounds good. So as you said, her name's Michelle Paden and I work within the office of student success, which is under the Center For Learning, Advising, And Student Success and started at WVU as an academic advisor within the unit, and then came on up into this first-generation world. And which is my background prior, which I love to work with first-generation students because I was a first-generation student myself and I look back and look at a lot of things that I wish I would've have known back when I was an undergrad.
But yeah, so we're just here. We want to connect students. To faculty, staff and other students that are under that first-generation title. And I guess we'll talk a little bit more about some of the events that we do, and we're looking to really build it up and focus on that community because it is a large community that students are not often aware about.
Yes, for sure. It's actually funny set up Michelle. I am also a first-generation college student. So I'm curious to hear them out with some of the things that you guys offer as well. I'm sure I missed out on a lot.
So this will be a super helpful episode. So thank you so much for joining us today. So I'm just going to go ahead and kick us off with some questions. So, one thing that we'd like to know is why it's important for colleges and universities to have a first-generation program. Yeah. I mean, you would think that first-generation, that we would be having less and less students, but it's really not the case.
And so of course, There's always so many students that fall underneath that. And when you're a first-generation student, your, your family doesn't really know what to ask and they don't know what they're missing, and you don't know what you're missing. And so it's just really great to have programs in place to help those students.
I would say that in higher education, we speak a foreign language. We have so many. Acronyms. And my favorite is when I worked in secondary education IEP meant something completely different than when I came to higher education. And I AP cause here it's an intensive English program. And so to help people learn.
And so it is really helping those students guiding them and letting them be aware. Cause you miss out on a lot of things, maybe not knowing who to go to or what questions to ask. So it's very much a hot topic and across the universities and across the states. And I believe that it is one that, you know, We need to put a lot of effort into and grow and support because students are going to be more successful by supplementing that their experience and helping them build that community.
I think that's a great point, Michelle. I know. When I was in school the first time I felt like, I didn't know what questions to maybe ask. So I just did not ask any of them. Yeah. And I wish I would have, right. Because I think even with financial aid or learning about grants and scholarships and things like that, I feel like if I would have asked the questions, maybe there would have been more opportunity.
Right. So my favorite thing is they don't know what they don't know. And. I always tell them there's no such thing as a silly question because especially when you're in a group, a lot of times first-generation students, they're not always the most talkative because of that being an uncertain part. And then it’s great.And. First-generation freshmen seminar of undecided students within class actually have two sections this year. And this is actually one of the more talkative sessions or talkative groups, because sometimes they just sit there, but as they get to know each other and they warm up, they realize they all kind of have the same question.
So it's great to see them kind of build that community and get a little bit more comfortable. In the college setting and speaking out in class as well. Right, right. Yeah. That's awesome. So as far as first-generation students go, do you know how many first-generation students attend WVU?
I just pulled a report like last week of the incoming freshmen. So we have over 4,000 undergraduate students for the Morgantown campus. And we typically bring in over a thousand every year that are freshmen. Now, the thing is we're missing students. And so I get students two ways. One is through the application, but if you look at the application and the common application, the question isn't exactly the best because you'll have students like my mother, she.
Had her RN, she went to school, she became an RN, but she never got her four-year BSN. And so I was still first-generation, and she also went later in life. So but with that, I would have answered the question and I would not have been marked as a first-generation student. And then you, so the other one is the fast.
Which not everybody completes. And it has kind of a better question. And so I do have a way that I can then pull students. I usually get about a hundred from the FASFA that didn't report it on their application, but it's something that sometimes students realize I'm like, Hey, I am first-generation. And so then I'll go in and kind of add that.
The tag to them, so that they're on my list to hear from me. But yeah, so over 4,000, Justin Morgantown, just the undergraduate students. And so, and that's the students that have already self-identified. So we know that there's more than that, but you're definitely not alone if you're first generation.
Yeah, my brings up a good question. Just, just sitting here thinking can a student just reach out to the office and self-identify, or does it have to go through the application or the FAFSA? If it misses, if they miss that then they, if they let me know, then I just can add that tag. One of the systems that we used here at the university, I go in and I put that tag on to the student.
And that's what I pull to reach out and do events or, you know, just, Hey, this is what's happening. So yeah, if they realize they're not getting messages from me, or they see that there's something first gen and they haven't heard anything about it. If they reach out to the office or email me directly, then I can go in and easily give them that task.
That's awesome. So it's never too late guys. It's never too late. So that's good to hear. So, can you tell us a little bit about some of their programs designed to help student success for first-generation students? Yeah. So the biggest thing is like I've said before, building that community.
And so when you have the, not only you build your peer community, cause you learn a lot from them, but within our office, You know, we have success coaching, which is free for students, and that's where they can meet with a graduate student and help with like time management test taking note, taking just any of those kind of skills that they may be struggling with.
We also have some peer mentors. We also have faculty and staff mentors that want to help and mentor students that we're trying to get back up. We're going to run that again. It kinda fell by the wayside during COVID, but. So it's really, the biggest thing is building that connection. We also do some fun academic and social events.
So last year we did a nailed it challenge. And so I had a friend that bakes and she made cookies and put the, the ice seen and everything. And we had little. You know, kind of a sample that they were supposed to go by, and they could come and just pick that up and go and decorate on their own time.
We did yeah. End of the semester that distress and like paint by number activity, students could come by and pick up. We used to have some really great game nights before COVID that we're hoping to get back into since events are allowed to happen. And so. We're looking at trying maybe to do some virtual type of game nights, event events as well.
But it's all about building that community because Of a student has that, you know, those connections and this. Kind of there there's real home while they're in school, you know, they're going to be more successful when they know that they have people they can just easily go and talk to, they're going to ask those questions.
And so it's all about that community is the most important thing. Yeah, definitely building a sense of community is huge especially for our online student population. So, and that's actually where my next question is going. Do you have any online students who are seeking, you know, any type of support for our office?
And if so, what are some of the typical requests that you might. So a lot of our supports are, you know, those success coaches that students can meet with and there's are free. And you know, we definitely train with them and talk with them about maybe some things that first-generation students might not be aware and the support that they need.
Of course, our office also has the academic resource centers for tutoring. And so you can do you can schedule. One-on-one appointments for tutoring and certain subjects. And so all that can be found on our website as well. And of course, if they want to connect with a mentor, even if you're not in Morgantown and you want to connect to somebody within, like, if it's a faculty staff or another student, we can definitely help and connect students that way.
So. Sometimes students will be like, this is what I'm interested in. And so then I'll go through like my list of people and kind of connect them to somebody in the area of their interests. We also work with I really encourage students, of course, not really online. I don't think they could do it but was an undergraduate research to go and build those connections.
The faculty and staff and kind of learn more. So if somebody is online, but may be local, that could be a good opportunity. But yeah, if it's just looking to, I want to feel more comfortable. I want to kind of find a place and that's really what we do in student success. We have our programs, but it's also like, Hey, let's connect you with this office or this person to help you be successful.
Awesome. That's good to know. It's always good to network and build relationships with and the programs and with faculty. I find sometimes that even gives, you know, more opportunity in the future when looking for employment and, and who knows really 100% networking is the most important thing. And that's what I always tell students.
You never know who you're going to meet, where and how that could, you know, benefit you in the future. Right. Absolutely. Absolutely. So if some of our students and, and I'm going to ask again for online but if some of our students in our online programs would like to become a mentor or a tutor, how would they go about doing that?
Like whom would they reach out to or what would they do to get set up, to become a mentor or tutor?
Email me, you can email our just vanities student success account. Barbara is kind of in charge of the tutoring. We have Sarah that really helps with our mentors. And so, I mean, the thing we say, reach out to the person, you know, and then we can connect you, but just our office in general. And you can look at our website.
Sometimes we'll have our posting up there, but if students want to, you know, maybe. With tutoring or mentoring. We'd love that. And you know, online students, what can we do to benefit you? What are some things that you need? That's the biggest thing is we learned from students. I mean, things change. So much from when I was an undergrad to even when I started working in higher education.
And so it's having those relationships with the students to really understand, Hey, this is kind of what we feel would benefit us most. And so if that's like they say, Hey, Amber, you know, can we do. Something first-generation specific and, you know, reach out to me or you, and we love to put that on. That's the biggest thing.
We are always looking to connect with the students and what they need. Yeah, that's great advice too, just for students, let us know what you need. Right. We are here to help, so I love that. And this is just, you know, asking about additional information or events that are going on. Is there anything that you guys are planning for right now or anything?
Our students should know about. Yeah. So we, we do have some events coming up. The biggest thing is November 8th. It is the national first-generation college celebration day. That's put on with NASPA, which is the ACA the students. Professionals and within the suitor foundation. So this year is the oh third or fourth year.
You know, 20, 20 didn't really count. So I really struggle when I think about the years lately, but so we're kind of in the beginning process of what we may do with that. We kind of do something different each year. There is. I'm in the works with doing some panels, setting up some panels with faculty and staff.
I think it's great when they hear from other faculty and staff's because the, a lot of times, you know, students, maybe they never struggled at all when they were in, in high school and they get to. College, and it's a little bit different and it's harder and they struggle, and you have a lot of self-doubt, and you have a lot of like, do I really belong here?
And I love for students to hear from, you know, especially our faculty that are first-generation that, you know, some of them struggled, some of them didn't finish right. In four years they took a break, they came back and, you know, things aren't always perfect, but we've learned from it, and we grow.
And that's the biggest thing that, you know, don't get discouraged. If you are struggling, reach out to your faculty and staff, they are, we are here because. We want to work with you. We want to see you be successful. And so, you know, going to them and seeing that, okay, college might not be a cake walk and, but I'm going to persist and I'm going to keep going.
Yeah, that's a true Michelle, just speaking from personal experience again, but I came from a very small high school. I think my graduating class was like 62 students. So. Really tiny. And then you get dumped into a pool of like, you know, a lot more students and everybody is a lot more competitive and sometimes you do feel that.
And so it's nice to hear from other faculty and other students who are, who are kind of feeling the same or in the same situation that you're not the only one. And that there's like a support system of people. So I. I think that's a great message to send out there to our students too. And really just connecting with your department if you're a first gen student is, is an awesome opportunity.
So yeah, people throughout you know, within different colleges that I already know are great supporters of first-generation. I know Eberly. They're first-generation faculty kind of on their website and some other units do that as well. So we're really trying to build that up, but there's so many honestly, we should probably do another reach out to get some better ideas of who's you you're now that are first-generation.
Cause it's been a few years, but you know, And the first-generation is different. I didn't even discuss like our definition for each school. There's not really a national definition, but kind of what we go by. We go by the trio program. So upper bound student success. And what a lot of institutions say is that neither parent or guardian has a four-year college degree and we're adding.
From an institution within the U S because if a student's parents got a degree in a foreign country, that is going to be a completely different experience than, you know, a student that would be here. So we're just looking at your parents or your guardians. We're not looking at siblings, aunts, uncles, you know, grandpa.
It's really just those parents because it's how they can support you that can change your views on things. Right? Right. And a lot of times I feel like parents who have already gone to school and experienced it, they might have strong ties to a college. They might go to sporting events still and you might be immersed.
At a very young age, whereas people who haven't gone right. Might not have those same ties. So it is different. It is different. For sure. So what other advice or words of wisdom do you have for our first-generation students? The biggest thing. Don't hesitate to reach out, especially if you're uncertain about something.
If you're struggling, your instructors are there for you utilize those office hours. They're there for a reason, email them. I mean, even, yeah. As an adult, like sometimes to be email and be like, I'm struggling, it's hard, but you have to let people know what's going on. And that's the biggest thing in my classes, you know, just be honest with me.
Let's talk, let's know what's going on. Let me meet you where you're at, but don't ever hesitate. And a lot of times with students, they don't even, they're like, I don't know how to stay, what I need to say or what I want to know. And so it's just like, Hey, word vomit. It let's just work on to get there.
If it takes us a few minutes, it's fine. You know, I'm always happy to meet with students, whether in person, virtually over the phone to kind of talk some things out. But don't ever hesitate to reach out. And when you do, you're gonna feel much better. You're going to see that other people are struggling as well.
And you know, sometimes. There's we don't always realize if things aren't super clear. Once again, we do the same thing over and over again. We say the same things over and over again. So we shorthand it. We use that foreign language. So don't hesitate to be like Noah. I don't really understand that. And that's the best advice and to be involved, whether it's with a student organization in one way or another, because even if you're an online student, you need to have those connections to the university.
Because this is a whole experience and we want you to get more than just on here for classes and nothing else, because you can learn a lot and make a lot of connections within your college. Yeah, it's great advice, Michelle. So I wanted to see what was the, is there a best way for students to get in contact with you?
Is there an email or phone number or how, how should a student reach out to your office? Yeah, the best. So honestly, if you're trying to get in touch with a particular person, we are here during university hours, 8 15, 4 45, Monday through Friday, and we have work stuff. But we're still working hybrid stone.
We're not always on campus. And just like today I'm on campus, but also have two classes to go to later today. So honestly, I think email's always the best way because then it comes directly and then if you need to, we can set something else up. So my email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or you can just email. That's at mail dot, wvu.edu, and that is answered by Angie and then she forwards it on to us. Whoever it may need to go to, but if you go to our website, you can see all of our services. If you're interested in the success coach, remember that free, you can go on there and you can request that if you're looking at tutoring, you can see what's available where, and not just our office, but the whole university.
And so you can see when that's available and how to access that. If you're interested in mentoring, we’re still getting that going. So maybe just do a direct reach out to me. But everything that we do offer it is all there. We also have a rise program. And that's for our black and brown students and students that are you know, women in stem, kind of there's more underrepresented and they do a lot of activities as well.
We know that there's a lot of overlap, so we do things together sometimes. And so we're just here all about giving you the resources and helping you make connections. But email, I would say is the best method to get into it. Perfect. Perfect. Well, thank you so much, Michelle, for taking some time to talk with us today.
I think you gave us a lot of great insight as to what our first-generation office does. Some of the events that are out there are ways to really connect and make this the best experience for our students. And I really appreciate that. So thank you so much for joining us. Yeah, thank you so much for having me.
And like I said, students, you know, if we need to do some online specific, let me know where you're at. Let's, let's talk about it. How can we best benefit and help you so good luck in your classes. Don't hesitate to reach out and that's what we're all here for. Awesome. Thank you so much. And we will see you guys next time on the Online Roadmap Podcast.