Indiana State University Newsroom

FirstSycamores program helps first-generation college students

September 11, 2015

Indiana State University's FirstSycamores faculty and staff mentoring program pairs first-generation college students with faculty and staff who were first-generation college graduates.

The program aims to develop meaningful connections with those who can aid students in acclimating to the challenges associated with being in college. Longer term, the goal is to increase student retention and graduation rates for first-generation college students.

Approximately half of all incoming students at Indiana State are the first generation in their family to receive a college education, compared with 30 percent of college students nationally. For some students the transition to living on-campus, the extra free-time, and the unfamiliarity with the area are difficult to manage.

This year, Indiana State offered a unique program to help first-generation students adjust to the transition from high school to college. Freshmen who self-identified as "FirstSycamores" came to campus a week before the start of the fall semester to take part in the Project Success Program, as a cohort through University College under the leadership of Dean Linda Maule.

"We are extremely fortunate to partner with Project Success this year, to form a living learning community where first-generation college students support one another through a first-of-its-kind educational experience at ISU," said Tim Boileau, who leads the first-generation faculty and staff mentoring program, under the Center for Student Success.

Faculty and staff mentors work with first-generation students throughout the year to make a connection and build a relationship, in order to help ease the transition into college.

With help from their mentors, along with participation in the FirstSycamores cohort of University 101, students in the program will become better acclimated to campus, learn skills that will help in academic success, and make a personal adjustment to university life.

"I worry about making new friends and being homesick but being the first to go to college in my family is going to have a really strong impact once I graduate," said David Reed a First Sycamores freshman from Columbus, Ind. "FirstSycamores put me with other people like me, it's easier to cope because we've all gone through it or are going through it together," Reed continued.

National research shows that first-generation college students are at greater risk of not completing their degree because of various reasons as compared to their peers who are non-first-generation college students. This program helps to eliminate barriers to success and provide students up with tools and life skills to identify issues and move past them.

"My mom is my best friend, so leaving her for college was hard. But leaving my hometown and meeting people who are like me and understand my problems means a lot," said Jacob Rayl a freshman pre-nursing major from Kokomo.

The connections and relationships don't end with their faculty mentors. FirstSycamores creates a community of students who are facing the same struggles as one another, and an extra support network of their peers.

"I know I have people to go to here, the fact that there are other students like me around helps fight all the worry and homesickness," said Rayl.

Photo: - Jacob Rayl of Kokomo poses for a selfie with Tim Boileau, who leads a faculty-staff mentoring program for first generation college students at Indiana State University.

Writer: Haley Sluboski, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University, 812-237-3773 or