“The good news is that studies show that first-generation students do just as well as other students once they graduate,” Nichols says. “This means that we have a real chance to catch students up at the college level.”
Rosa Guerra Sarabia agrees. Last summer, Sarabia, the Leadership, Excellence, and Academic Development (LEAD) Program coordinator at SCU, began a new summer bridge program, aimed at helping first-generation students make the transition to Santa Clara. “As a first-generation student myself, I know what it’s like not to know where to turn for help. We want students to know that they are not alone, and I think this program can make a difference,” she says.
The summer bridge program brought 30 first-generation students and students of color to campus two weeks before the start of the school year. These students started their English and Environmental Science classes early, while attending workshops on study skills, financial aid issues, test taking, and other important topics. Besides the bridge program, the LEAD Program, which was partially funded by a three-year Irvine grant, includes a summer orientation for first-generation students and a parent outreach program. “Parents get the chance to visit campus and then we stay in touch with them via a newsletter so that they can gain a better understanding of what their child is experiencing throughout the year,” Sarabia says. For example, parents will be notified that finals are coming up and students may need more time to study.
President Paul Locatelli, S.J. ’60, was himself a first-generation college student and understands the importance of programs like LEAD. “Since its founding in 1851, Santa Clara has educated students who were the first members of their family to attend college. That commitment continues today because all of us at Santa Clara know that such an education is important to these students, their families, and society. We want them to be successful and to learn what it takes to become socially responsible citizens who will leaven society for good.”
“I was the first member of my family to attend college, and so I know that it is sometimes a very difficult change in life. We are committed to the success of this program that has been designed to help these students and their parents make the transition to Santa Clara and to the demands of university life,” Locatelli says.
Patricia Castorena, who now works at SCU’s East San Jose Community Law Center helping immigrants, wholeheartedly supports programs that give students some additional help. “I don’t think first-generation students need their hands held, but they do need that extra little push.” And the benefits of that “extra little push” can have far-reaching ramifications. Research shows that when one family member succeeds in college, younger siblings are encouraged to follow suit. As Clara Chu was receiving her diploma, her brother, Jacob, was in the stands applauding. He is now a sophomore at SCU.