Ways to Make a Difference for First-Generation Students

Supporting Students in the time of COVID-19

Spring 2020 Student Concerns: At the end of the Spring 2020 semester, when all classes had been moved online due to COVID-19, the Office of Assessment and other UI entities conducted assessment efforts to better understand the student experience during this time. Results found that all students expressed non-academic concerns that affected their academic experience. In each case, first-generation students reported the same concerns, but at higher levels of frequency than their continuing generation peers. While this document, which summarizes many of these findings, was developed with first-generation students in mind, utilizing the strategies it outlines in the classroom will benefit all students. For more ideas on how to implement these strategies or adapt them for your course, visit https://teach.uiowa.edu/keep-teaching-iowa.

Revised for Fall 2021 and Beyond: PDF iconGive me 5: Five Ways to Support First-Generation Students in the Classroom

PDF iconGive Me 5: Five Ways to Support First-Generation Students in Fall 2020

Ways to Make a Difference: A Resource for Faculty and Staff

The "Ways to Make a Difference" document, which is based on scholarly work, institutional data, and interviews with University of Iowa students, serves as an introduction to first-generation students at the University of Iowa. It is meant to provide initial insight on how the campus community might better understand and positively influence our first-generation students' collegiate experience. If you, or your department, would like additional information or wish to schedule a more comprehensive training session, please contact angela-lamb@uiowa.edu

PDF iconWays to Make a Difference: Introduction to First-Generation Students and Strategies to Help Them Succeed

Strategies to Help First-Generation Students Succeed 

Need some ideas on how you can personally better support first-generation students and in the process better support all students? Consider implementing some of these strategies:

  • Develop policies and meeting or office hours that are flexible. Take into account changes in student demographics and familial obligations and consider how these may impact students' academic responsibilities. 
  • Language matters- be mindful of clarity in your instructions and expectations. Help students demystify higher education. For example, don't just say, "Come to my office hours." Instead, explain what these are, why they are important, what students can expect/what they should bring with them, and how students can still meet with you in the event that they are not available during your scheduled office hours.
  • When it comes to terminology, assume that most students are not familiar with terms specific to your discipline, department, or higher education. Refrain from using too many confusing acronyms or terms on their own. Keep in mind that students do need to learn this information in order to successfully navigate college and professional careers so don't omit it completely. Instead, provide context and explanations of what you're referencing. 
  • Clear up any confusion that students may have about how you expect or want to be addressed, and ask them about their preferences as well. For example, on your first day of class let students know how they can address you (Dr. Ms., Professor, Sarah, etc). If you were first-gen, share this with them!
  • Emphasize the importance of seeking help and give examples of help-seeking behaviors; point out that students who ask for help are taking necessary steps to be successful in college. If a student is struggling in your class, connect them resources.
  • Lean into your students. If something seems off or is worrisome, check in with the student. If you don't feel comfortable doing this or need additional help, visit this website to request that someone follow-up with the student https://uc.uiowa.edu/student-success/report-student-concern.
  • One the first day of class, model and share reading strategies from your field and demonstrate note-taking strategies that work best for your approach to teaching. Check in periodically with students to confirm that they are following lectures and readings okay.
  • Use the power of "yet." Remind students to approach learning from a growth mindset--that they may not be able to do something---yet, and that with continued practice and academic skill-building, they have the ability to be successful and reach their goals. 
  • A sense of belonging and knowing that every person matters is imperative to all students' success. Create inclusive classrooms, learning spaces, and offices, embrace diversity in all forms, design and teach courses that foster talent in all of your students, and do not allow microaggressions or other forms of harassment to go unchallenged.

Celebrate First-Generation Students

Report a Student Concern

The Excelling@Iowa referral system is designed to help faculty and staff connect students with campus resources when concerns arise. When a referral is sent, the office receiving the referral will directly outreach to the student. Please consider this when selecting an office to submit your referral to. PLEASE NOTE! If there is an immediate concern regarding a student's safety, please contact the University of Iowa Department of Public Safety at (319) 335-5022 or dial 911

Ways to Make a Difference in the Classroom

Introduce Students to Research Labs, Methods

Help First-Generation Students Develop Better Study Skills

Normalize Help-Seeking Behavior, Such as Visiting Office Hours


Resources Developed by UI Campus Partners

Has your office developed a resource or informational materials that provide additional ways to make a difference for first-generation students? If so, please send them to angela-lamb@uiowa so they can be included here. UI faculty and staff are welcome to share these documents with colleagues and are encouraged to discuss how this information can be utilized within your department or office. 

Office of Teaching, Learning, & Technology Center for Teaching

The Office of Teaching Learning & Technology Center for Teaching, in collaboration with Dr. Carolyn Colvin, Associate Professor in Teaching and Learning (College of Education), developed the following document that focuses on strategies specifically for faculty, teaching assistants, and graders to support first-generation students in the classroom.

PDF iconSupporting First-Generation Students: Strategies for Faculty, Teaching Assistants, and Graders

College of Education Rehabilitation Counseling Program