How personalized support can change the odds for first-generation students

For Shanelle Justice, being the first in her family to graduate from college meant everything. “It’s a dream I’ve had since I can remember,” she says, “as early as middle school.” Yet making the adjustment from high school to college wasn’t easy. As a first-generation college student, she faced additional barriers and challenges as she struggled to balance the complicated demands of being a full-time student without the benefit of family members who went to college to turn to for advice.

Shanelle was also grappling with anxiety and other mental health challenges as she worked to navigate the complex world of taking college-level coursework, making connections on campus, and accessing financial aid and other resources. After only a few weeks in college, she was overwhelmed — and considering leaving the university.

Getting the help she needed

The good news for Shanelle is that her school, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, had long before committed to providing intensive student support resources specifically designed to help first-generation students. For Shanelle, that support came in the form of InsideTrack retention coach Kimmy Benson. Working with her coach completely turned things around for Shanelle.

“Having a coach identify the strengths in me inspired me.” – Shanelle Justice, student, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Shanelle recalls, “Kimmy came into my life at a time when I was struggling with my mental health. With change. With feeling like I wasn’t heard or understood.” With Kimmy’s support and guidance, however, Shanelle was able to identify on-campus resources and support services that could assist her. “I owe a lot of my success to working with Kimmy,” Shanelle says. “She was the mentor and friend that I personally and professionally needed.”

Progress and persistence

When the challenges are starting to pile up, student support can make a world of difference for individuals, their families and their communities. Through one-on-one coaching sessions and check-ins, Kimmy helped Shanelle not only gain the immediate support she needed to overcome her doubts and obstacles in the short term, but also develop the confidence to finish her degree in social work and start a career as an adult education teacher. 

“I owe a lot of my success to working with Kimmy. She was the mentor and friend that I personally and professionally needed.” – Shanelle Justice, student, Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis

Kimmy’s support was not only critically important to Shanelle at that point in her life, but it has also influenced her career path. As Shanelle explains, “Kimmy’s work with me — helping me during such a dark time in my life — really helped me to want to inspire others who are struggling to know that they are not alone and that they too can overcome their challenges and obstacles.”

Together, we can help learners across the nation realize their potential.

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