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First-Generation, First-Year Seminar Class at Catawba Makes a Pact to Graduate

December 06, 2012

Category: Academics, Students


Students Bury Time CapsuleStudents in Dr. Julie Chamberlain's First-Generation First-Year Seminar (FYS) Class at Catawba College this fall, "FIRST!," were uniquely suited to consider their seminar topic. They all are first-generation college students, including their professor, a first-generation college graduate, and they pondered "What does it mean to be first?" in the context of their class.

The 14 students explored famous firsts, looked at the challenges facing first-gen students, worked to build their own social and cultural capital, and will travel to Washington, D.C., to visit museums, historical sites, and government offices over the Christmas break. They also read the book, "The Pact," about three African-American students from the streets of Newark who make a pact to go to med school and chronicle their individual journeys to reach that goal.

Early in the semester, Chamberlain explained, the students also decided to make a pact of their own. They decided to commit to each other to achieve their goal of graduating from Catawba. On the last day of their class, students placed a signed copy of the pact they had written, a copy of the book, "The Pact," along with several individual mementoes into a time capsule that they buried on campus. Near the capsule, a white dogwood was planted to both mark the spot and to remind the students as it grows of their growth as individuals.

"This white dogwood is something symbolic that you can come back to through your years at Catawba," Chamberlain told her students. "In four years, after your graduation, we'll dig up the time capsule and you can remember your goals and aspirations as first-year students and celebrate achieving these. We'll have a party."

SummersStudent Leanna Hicks of Richmond, Va., placed a small photo of herself graduating from high school in the time capsule, while Morgan Summers of Gastonia included a small pinwheel that she said symbolized her and her desire to have fun.

Associate Provost, Dr. Steve Coggin, was on hand as the time capsule was buried and the dogwood planted. He recalled being in Washington D.C., several years ago and learning of a CIC/Walmart College Success Awards grant that provide funding for higher education institutions to create special programs   to serve first-generation college students. Catawba was one of 30 CIC member institutions that successfully applied for and received the $100,000 grant in 2010. The students in Chamberlain's class will the last group to benefit specifically from it.

This grant, funded by the Walmart Foundation, allowed Catawba to help strengthen its programs that support the education of first-generation college students. Catawba has used its award to fund its NextGen Project to build cultural and social capital of first-generation students. This project built on existing programs in three areas: training and developing faculty and staff who work with first year students, the NextGen FYS section and targeted outreach to families of first-generation students.

"It's not just your class," Coggin told the students. "There are hundreds of you on campus. Catawba has always served first-generation students."

Other members of Chamberlain's class, in addition to those aforementioned included Joshua Burt of Salisbury; Trevor Loudin of Salisbury; Al Lindsay of Dallas; Chase Darden of Goldsboro; Tevin Stevenson of Charlotte; Jared Story of N. Wilkesboro; Cody Mangum of Concord; Paiton Fleming of Lexington; Gina Gerone of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Ashleigh Moore-Orlowski of Virginia Beach, Va.; Virginia Merida of Candor; and Phillipe Violland of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Two Catawba students, Brittany Wescott of Concord and Chris Money of King, first-generation students and members of the 2011 First-Generation First Year Seminar Class, served as teaching fellows for the class.

During Catawba's first year of the grant, incoming students who met the first generation criteria had the opportunity to enroll in the NextGen FYS, taught by chair and associate professor of sociology, Dr. Maria Vandergriff-Avery, who is a first-generation college graduate. During the second year of the grant, a special first-generation first-year seminar was taught by Dr. Connie Lowery, chair and associate professor of biology.


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