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RC Launches Program for First Generation College Students


Written by Bradley Bommarito

Halfway through the Spring 2021 semester, Roanoke College has launched a groundbreaking program to help RC’s first-generation college students become acclimated to college life and connect with each other.  The program, called RC Aspire, was designed specifically with RC’s estimated 451 students enrolled at the college whose parents or guardians do not have a bachelor’s degree or higher, which comprises about 26 percent of the student body.

“A program like this is a way to help students take ownership of their college experience, setting realistic goals and making their dreams concrete and actionable,” said Dr. Julia Sienkewicz, Associate Professor of Fine Arts and coordinator of RC Aspire, in a recent press release published by RC. “‘Aspire’ is uplifting and inspirational, while also really underlining the goals of the program.”

According to the Center for First-Generation Student Success, 56 percent of American undergraduate students enrolled in the 2015-2016 academic year nationally were first-generation college students (neither parent had a bachelor’s degree), and 59 percent of these students were also the first sibling in their family to go to college.  24 percent of these students had parents with no postsecondary education whatsoever, and 56 percent of these students had parents who did not have a bachelor’s degree.

First-generation students can struggle with challenges including having to work more than other students, not having access to college advice and experience from parents, struggling with attaining and maintaining financial aid, and feeling out of place in the college environment.

RC Aspire is hosting weekly meetings this semester, which will primary be held via Zoom.  Last Wednesday, the program hosted a Zoom meeting called “Registration Mind Meld,” which was a forum for first-generation RC students to share experiences and advice with each other regarding course registration.

Students interested in attending future RC Aspire events or who wish to learn more about the program can email Sienkewicz at sienkewicz@roanoke.edu or call her office at (540)-375-2553.