Flying First helps first-generation students take flight

Flying First official logo. - Photo via Rowan University's website.

Here at Rowan University, there is always an ever-growing sense of inclusion for all people. Some students are the first in their families to attend college, which could potentially limit the possibilities that are presented when they decide to go themselves. Flying First, Rowan University’s First-Generation Task Force program initiative was developed for the purpose of enhancing academic success and creating a sense of belonging on campus for first-generation college students.

The transition to college isn’t easy for any student, but being a first-gen can be more difficult because of financial and personal reasons. 30% of students enrolled in post-secondary institutions today are low-income, first-generation college students. 89% of these students will not earn a bachelor’s degree six years out of high school. They drop out of college at four times the rate of their peers whose parents have a postsecondary education. Director of the Chamberlain Student Center & Campus Activities, Joe Lizza, supplied these statistics and spoke about many of the contributing factors that can lead to a first-generation college student not succeeding.  

“There are numerous reasons that these students struggle to access and complete college. While academic preparation is sometimes a factor, motivation to pursue college is not in question. National research shows that low-income, first-generation college students aspire to attend college at rates equal to their higher-income peers whose parents have a college degree,” Lizza said.

“It is an interesting experience being a first-generation college student. On one hand, you feel extremely proud to be the first person to take on this experience and paving the way for future generations in your family. While on the other hand, there are challenges with navigating resources, feeling out of place, not having your family to relate to what you are going through, and just overall imposter syndrome of do I truly belong.” said Jessica Landow, a graduate student here at Rowan University.

Flying First was established in 2017 and was created to help students who may struggle with the pressure of being the first in their families to branch out and attend college. The program encourages students to continue taking leaps here at Rowan to create new opportunities, whether it’s joining new clubs to intermingle with others and make friends or taking risks in pursuing classes that they may be worried about.

“Being first can be hard; being first can be scary; being first can be exciting,” Lizza said.

Flying First has created many opportunities to help network and build connections as college students that will help them out in the future when they venture out into the world for their careers. They have workshops to help students transition easily whether it’s helping them with their financial questions, career preparation, or just managing the stress of college. Rowan even helps parents provide support to their children through their adjustment process through college.

“In addition to support for our students, we offer workshops for parents and guardians so that they can become more knowledgeable and support their students,” said Lizza.

Rowan is also helping build success for all first-gens nationwide. Rowan is a member of the Center for First Generation Student Success, a national organization that provides data, training, and expertise for a growing network of colleges and universities around the country to scale and sustain the important work of serving first-generation students. 

Rowan also helps first-generation students who perform outstandingly in the classroom. Rowan University’s honor society for first-gen students Tri-Alpha was chartered in 2022 and recently inducted its second class this past Wednesday. This organization also helps inspire to support the growing amount of first-generation students for generations to come.

“The honor society serves as the student arm of the Flying First taskforce and this student-led honor society not only recognizes students for their accomplishments but also encourages them to support the next generation of first-generation students,” Lizza said.

The possibilities of every student here at Rowan are endless, but it’s a team effort to get everyone to buy in and realize their worth here because every first-generation student at this university belongs just as much as any other student and is here for the sole reason of succeeding and creating new narratives on what it means to be a first-generation college student.

“Completing my undergraduate collegiate experience and gaining my bachelor’s degree was my most proud moment. You overcome all of the obstacles and challenges thrown your way and make it out on top. Currently as a graduate student, the same feelings of should I be here or do I belong arise within sometimes, but when I do begin to feel this way, I think about how transformational this will be not only to my immediate family but to future generations to come,” Landow said.

Being a first-generation student doesn’t limit any of the possibilities that you can accomplish in your lifetime, and an example of this lies with one person here at Rowan, President Ali A. Houshmand, who grew up in a house of 10 children who could not read or write in Iran. 

“You never say, ‘This is not for me’ or ‘I can’t do that.’ The challenges you face are monumental. Believe in yourself and take charge. Your time will come,” said Houshmand in a Rowan Today article about Flying First.

From transitioning to college and providing resources for succeeding to creating positive perceptions of being a first-gen through networking and advocacy throughout the community, Flying First has continuously helped create inclusion for all people from all backgrounds, which is why Rowan continues to grow bigger and brighter each and every year as one of the best universities in the United States.

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