Linfield puts focus on first-generation

College recruiters are already telling potential freshmen about “Linfield First.” The program launches in the fall of 2019, so entering students can apply for the scholarships.

In addition to money, Linfield First students will be able to take advantage of expanded, individualized support to keep them on the path toward graduation.

They need to feel like part of the college community, President Miles Davis said. That’s an important part of every Linfield student’s experience, he said: making personal connections, being noticed in the school’s small classes and participating in research and other learning opportunities directly with supportive faculty members.

In addition, Linfield First students will be encouraged to participate in organized activities. And they will receive mentoring offered by professors and staff who were first-generation college students themselves.

“We don’t assume, but if you need somebody to talk to, we’re here,” said Davis, who was a first-generation student.

He said it’s important for students to see that someone like them can find success.

“We want to give them the opportunity to experience the transformation college offers,” he said, referring to both  academics and socialization.

“College plays a role in economic mobility,” he added. “We have to create a system where everyone has a chance to succeed.”

Linfield already has a large number of first-generation students — about 25 percent of its student body, according to Gerardo Ochoa, special assistant to the president. Their graduation rate is slightly higher than that of Linfield students on average.

A first-generation college student himself, Ochoa previously was director of diversity and community affairs.

In his 15 years at Linfield, first on the Portland campus, then in McMinnville, he’s seen an increasing number of first-gen students. He’s also witnessed more awareness of welcoming first-generation students, not just at Linfield, but at schools nationwide.

“First-gen students are survivors,” said Ochoa, who has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Oregon and a master’s degree from Harvard.

Many students who are the first in their family to go to college have grown up juggling multiple responsibilities.

“They persevere. They have grit. They know how to balance their lives. They’re able to work with others,” he said. “They’ve had to develop these skills.”

Many first-generation students have a difficult time asking for help, he said. They may see it as a weakness.

“It’s not,” Ochoa said.

“We want students to feel like they’re not on their own; we’re here to help,” he said. “We promote interdependence and collaboration, not just independence.”

With the support of the Linfield First program, he predicted, they will thrive.

“We’ll meet students where they’re at with the scholarship, mentoring, a pre-orientation program and intentional advising, and that will lead to success,” he said.