A Leap of Faith: Documenting the First-Generation Undergraduate Experience

Contextualizing the first-generation experience at Duke

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The recognition of the unique struggles faced by first-generation undergraduates arose out of a commitment to socioeconomic diversity and the increasing access to higher education. The Washington Duke Scholarship will welcome its first cohort this fall, and the program represents a significant step forward for first-generation students. However, more work needs to be done. As of 2016, the Duke Alumni Association does not keep track of first-generation status, and many first-generation students feel that the University can do more in promoting their resources to ensure a successful undergraduate experience for all first-generation undergraduates.

The first-generation undergraduate experience at Duke is one that crosses many eras of the Institution's history. First-generation status had long been overlooked by University administration, and the struggles of first-generation undergraduate students long fell on deaf ears. Only recently have university administrations and faculty members begun to inquire from the students themselves what they needed to succeed in college. The answer can be summed up in one word: support. But not just financial support. First-generation students consistently express a need for a support network, consisting of faculty, administration members, and friends on campus, to rely on for the questions that will naturally arise during their undergraduate careers. Having this bedrock of support is what gives first-generation students the courage to step out of their comfort zones and make the most of their undergraduate experience.

Contextualizing the first-generation experience at Duke