Baylor First in Line Students Set the Stage for the Next Generation

January 25, 2018

Media Contact: Lori Fogleman, 254-710-6275
Follow Baylor Media Communications on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Jan. 25, 2018) — As the first in her family to attend college, Beaumont freshman Sarah Hale was surprised at how quickly she became acclimated to her new home away from home, Baylor University.

“As we were touring campus for the first time I thought, ‘I can see myself living here and getting along with everyone,’” Hale said. “It just felt like a second home.”
Every year, Baylor receives a number of new students who are the first among their families to attend college.

Currently, 13.9 percent of Baylor’s total student population, and an estimated 20 percent of the incoming freshman class comprises first-generation college students. Baylor has created a program for this community of students called “First in Line,” which is designed to create a space for first-generation college students to share their experiences and journey through college as a community.

Sarah Hale, a freshman majoring in psychology, is among the first-generation college students at Baylor involved in the “First in Line” program. (Morty Ortega, Baylor Video Productions)

First in Line students have the opportunity to get to know other first-generation college students through events, attend professional workshops and receive advice from leaders on campus.

“The main goal is to make sure that we’re not alone and that we know what’s going on, because a lot of first-generation college students feel like they should know just because everybody else knows what’s going on and a lot of people are afraid to ask,” said Hale, a pre-psychology major. “I feel like it’s a closer group of Baylor community. Everyone knows what we’re all going through and we’re all here to help each other.”

Providing encouragement

Mito Diaz-Espinoza, Ph.D., program manager for First in Line, said the program is designed to educate first-generation students about how college works, show them role models who will encourage them to succeed and communicate with families who have not experienced college life.

First-generation college students face many challenges that others do not consider. One of the biggest things that first-generation students struggle with is learning the logistics of college life. With the transition from high school to college, they do not know what to expect as opposed to students with parents who have attended college, said Diaz-Espinoza.

Diaz-Espinoza said another issue many students often struggle with is self-confidence. Often, first-generation students have been successful academically throughout high school, but may not have prepared for the rigor of college courses. Because of this, they feel less than smart and like they might not even belong at a university.

“In crisis mode we challenge whether or not we’re supposed to be here,” Diaz-Espinoza said. “It’s a thing called Imposter Syndrome. A lot of underrepresented groups feel it when they are in academic settings.”

The First in Line Success Academy program presents students with peer leaders, other faculty and staff who know what it is like to be first-generation students. Around 30 staff members and 15 faculty members serve on the advisory board, lead in different committees and act as mentors.

“We get them to tell their stories in front of these first-generation college students so they think, ‘Wow, somebody else who’s like me struggled and they still made it. Someone else from my background can do it,’” Diaz-Espinoza said. “We’re trying to get them to understand that college is a place they can be at and there is help available for them.”

Find your passion, live out your dreams

Houston senior Lorena Ramirez is Hale’s peer leader in the First in Line Success Academy program and the first in her family to leave home for college. Ramirez, who is majoring in computer science, said her biggest desire for her mentees is for them to live out their dreams. She said she understands the pressures that first-generation college students feel to select majors that will produce jobs with good pay in order to satisfy their families. She encourages her mentees to pursue what they are passionate about.

“Deterring students from their dreams for the sake of better pay keeps them from living their dream,” Ramirez said.

She said another major problem for first-generation college students is not knowing who to ask for advice. She said it is difficult to ask parents who did not attend college for advice because their only idea of what higher education is comes from high school. She hopes to be a source of encouragement to her mentees as they continue their journey at Baylor.

“I may not have gone through the exact same things they’re going through, but I relate, not on a sympathetic level, but an empathetic level. Sympathy is just being there for them, but empathy means I want to walk with them,” Ramirez said.
Hale said Ramirez has made her experience even better because of the way the two relate to each other.
“It’s reassuring to know that I don’t have to go through this alone, that there are other people that I can really relate to personality-wise,” Hale said. “I felt like I could connect with her in a lot of ways because she comes from the same area and she’s the oldest in her family. So she’s kind of the first to figure out what’s going on just like I am.”

Looking back, Hale finds consolation in the fact that her degree will help her provide for her family. As she recalls her family’s struggle to make ends meet after the death of her father, she is grateful that her education will allow her to eliminate the excess stress of financial instability.

“I see how much easier and beneficial it is for life to have a degree,” Hale said. “I’m ready to share my experiences and what I’ve learned with my family and with my community.”

Hale is excited that her younger sister is following in her footsteps and also applying to Baylor. As she continues her journey at Baylor, she will lay the groundwork for her sister to become the next in line to join the Baylor family.

by Joy Moton, student newswriter, (254) 710-6805

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 17,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.