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A resource for first-gen students

OMSA Senior Dinner Commencement Celebration in the Field House on the University of Rochester’s River Campus, Rochester, NY, Saturday, May 14, 2016. In this photo, Kiara Cruz accepts the Kesha Atkins Citation for Student Leadership. Photo by Brandon Vick, University Communications,

Kiara Cruz ’16 accepts the Kesha Atkins Citation for Student Leadership at last spring’s Office of Minority Student Affairs senior dinner.

By Jeanette Colby

Students who are the first in their families to attend college can sometimes face unique challenges.

“Having advisors helping me throughout my college years has been a tremendous support in my time at University,” says Kiara Cruz ’16. Cruz, a first-generation student, was able to get the support she needed at the University, even if that simply meant borrowing textbooks, free printing, or attending workshops.

Cruz, who will attend Tulane University in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in maternal and child health, is grateful for the support she received from the David T. Kearns Center for Leadership and Diversity in Arts, Sciences & Engineering to help her navigate her time at Rochester. The center will now be the official academic home for all first-generation students.

The center’s role expands on programs that have already been introduced by the First-Generation Students and Families Committee, says Beth Olivares, dean for diversity initiatives in Arts, Sciences & Engineering and director of the Kearns Center. “It really supplements the evolving support at our University for first-generation families.”

There are initiatives in place to welcome and inform first-generation students and families during orientation as well as the “1st One” campaign to show support and camaraderie between past and present first-generation college students, an effort created and led by Dawn Bruner in the Office of Parent and Family Relations.

“We made the decision to be more proactive rather than reactive for all first-generation students who need advice on making academic decisions,” says Olivares. In addition to academic advising, the center will offer a fall seminar on navigating the higher-
education landscape, specifically at the University. First-generation students can utilize academic resources and also connect with upperclass and graduate students with similar backgrounds.

The Kearns Center also hires undergraduates to tutor high school students taking part in precollege and Upward Bound programs.
Academic support is open to all incoming and current first-generation students.

“There is a sense of home and community that will support students’ goals,” says Olivares. “We know that they can thrive. There can be pitfalls, but we know the tools you’ll need to succeed.”

Contact Melissa Raucci at for more information.