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February 25. 2014 8:25PM

Keene State College joins program to help first-generation students

KEENE — Keene State College has joined a program to help first-generation students seeking a higher education.

Keene State recently announced it is now a College Partner in the “I’m First” program, which is an online community founded by the Center for Student Opportunity to support students who are the first in their family to attend college.

Keene State College has had a long-standing commitment to first-generation students, said Dr. Anne Huot, president of Keene State College, on Tuesday.

More than 40 percent of first-year students are first-generation students at Keene State.

The “I’m First” program offers tools to families and students.

“So it’s online tools for students and their families, and they are able to get online and chat with other first-generation students,” Huot said. “It’s essentially a resource, a tool kit that has been put together for first-generation students.”

If your parents went to college or university, she said, you tend to hear about it through stories and dinner table conversations, so the challenges and issues a college student faces and how to resolve those issues are familiar to those students.

When first-generation students run up against problems or issues, however, “if they have difficulty resolving them they frequently tend to leave,” Huot said.

The program is also a resource for college administrators, such as Margaret Richmond, Keene State’s admissions director, and Kristin Sweeney, director of TRIO, who say they are excited to start working with the program.

“More importantly, it will help us to learn new and better ways to serve these students through the application process,” Richmond said.

As director of TRIO, Sweeney helps students access federal programs that could help them pay for college or university.

Navigating through the process of financing higher education and managing college debt can be intimidating, Sweeney said.

Being keyed into the challenges these first-generation students face helps the administrators connect the students with the resources they need, she said. But a lot of times it’s just being there to answer questions and concerns because the terrain is unfamiliar to the student and their parents.

“Sometimes it’s just taking time to answer their questions,” Sweeny said. “Then all of a sudden, it’s a level playing field.”

Huot herself is a first-generation student.

She said that growing up in Manchester as one of seven children, her parents worked hard to make sure she and her siblings went to college, which continues to have a lasting positive impact on her life.

“Here I am a kid that grew up in a very average family, a first-generation college student, now with a job I never imagined would be in the cards for me. That degree opened doors for me and prepared me for jobs you don’t even think about when you’re 22. … It’s the great equalizer. It’s that thing that gives you opportunities,” she said.

You can learn more about the “I’m First” program online at www.imfirst.org.

mpierce@newstote.com


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