Alice Petty, Director of Pre-Major advising, talked to Jennifer Randall Crosby of CTL and Joseph Brown of First Gen and Multicultural Programs about advising first-generation students at Stanford.
Q: What are two challenges that students who are first-generation or low-income face that you think Pre-Major Advisors should be aware of?
Joseph: In my research and encounters with first-gen students two of the major challenges in communications with PMAs have been (1) FLI students may not possess that sense of empowerment that lets them fearlessly engage faculty or take advantage of the resources available at Stanford, so FLI students often miss out on some of the opportunities that flow from those interactions and (2) Advisors may feel reluctant to check in on students for fear that those students may interpret this to mean you expect trouble or academic challenges. One unfortunate consequence of this reluctance is that an advisor may not learn of a student’s difficulties soon enough to help that student turn things around.
Q What concrete steps can we, as advisors, take to support our students as they face these challenges?
Joseph: Share your experiences! If you felt anxious about approaching faculty or were hesitant to ask questions in class, share your experience and give examples of how you got over your anxiety. You can challenge your advisees to ask a question or go to office hours, but have them practice with you first. Then follow up and see how it went. Set your advisees’ expectations early on by letting them know you will be checking in with them to make sure they are getting what they need to be successful. You can assure them that they WILL encounter difficulty and frustration and that is normal, and you are there as a resource. Ask the hard questions about mid-term grades, “So how DID you do on that Chem31 exam? What was your grade? Remember I told you I would be checking on you.” And let your advisees know about the resources that can help them succeed.
These recommendations are helpful to first-gen and low-income students, but they are also helpful to everyone.