CHADRON – Chadron Mayor Miles Bannan proclaimed Nov. 8 First Generation Student Day during a City Council meeting Monday night. The declaration celebrates the 55th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Higher Education Act and acknowledges the talents and potential first generation students have to offer their communities. The declaration also reinforces the important role TRiO programs, Project Strive and Upward Bound, play in promoting educational success for first generation students. First generation students are those from a family where neither parent has a four-year college degree.
Jennifer Schaer is the Director of Project Strive at Chadron State College that serves 160 CSC students. In 2018, 81 percent of its students were first generation. Services include career planning, academic planning, assistance with applying for financial aid, and registering for classes.
“This week, for example, we’re doing a workshop on social media dos and don’ts. We try to host an event each week. We do a lot of stress relief when it gets closer to finals. Generally, our efforts are geared more towards freshmen and sophomores. Then, during their junior and senior years, we might not see them as much, which is good. That means they understand how it works,” Schaer said.
Kevin Coy, a 2018 CSC graduate and alumnus of Project Strive, is now the Upward Bound Academic Advisor for Alliance and Chadron high schools.
“I love what I do. Since I was a first generation student, I was able to do things through Project Strive that my family wasn’t able to do. Thanks to (Schaer), she was part of helping me succeed. That feeling of being the first one in my family to graduate was amazing,” Coy said. “I can motivate students, but they have got to dig down deep to make this work for them. There are resources, but they have to meet me half way.”
Coy sees first generation students as trailblazers for their families, breaking negative cycles, and becoming leaders in their families. He readily admits a four-year college is not for everybody, so he helps students explore skilled trades and two-year college options, as well.
Coy’s supervisor, Heather Barry, directs the Upward Bound programs serving 58 first generation students in Chadron, Crawford, and Alliance high schools.
“We help them to see college is an option for their future. We do social, emotional workshops, career, and college planning workshops. In September, we did a future goal-setting workshop, and we hosted a virtual college fair in October to help with the ACT, the FAFSA, college applications, and scholarship applications,” Barry said.
In addition to the school-year program, Barry directs an annual summer program hosted at CSC where high school students stay on campus, live in the residence halls, and take college-like classes. The month-long program culminates with a trip that includes educational and recreational aspects. Before the pandemic, Barry said the group would visit other college campuses as part of the students’ exposure to educational possibilities.
Barry related a recent experience during which the parents of an Alliance High School student expressed their disbelief and gratitude that Coy would be dedicated to helping their daughter navigate the process of applying and paying for college.
“That was a very powerful conversation with that family. It speaks volumes to this program. I told them, ‘That's what we’re here for.’ That mom had tears in her eyes. That’s why we love what we do because we get to help people like that,” Barry said.
Schaer agreed that parents of college students often contact her office to express thanks.
“When they say they couldn’t have done it without us, it’s nice to hear that,” Schaer said.
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