19 Jul 2011
by Noah Bernstein
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Creating a Forum for Community Integration for First-Generation College Students

A strategic goal of NWF’s COIN initiative is to increase community capacity, create a new pipeline of well-educated local leaders who are active citizens, and stabilize community leaders as strong anchors for development in low-income communities. COIN has laid the foundation for six exploratory pilot projects linking community-based organizations (CBO’s) to high school students in five states: New Mexico, California, New York, Virginia and Florida. As we move forward and learn from these programs, it has become evident that in order to build robust community leadership, an open and collaborative forum for first-generation college students to return home and be accepted, valued, and reintegrated into their neighborhoods and families is imperative.

Smaller, more localized pilot projects have begun this summer, which complement the national cohort of COIN, beginning with a partnership between the NYC Department of Youth and Community Development and Skidmore College. This fellowship program is just underway, providing stipends for 20 high-financial need Skidmore students, mostly freshman and sophomores, from New York City to work for local government offices. Some examples include the Department of Probation, Department of City Planning and AHRC New York City. buy used domain names . Complementing their internships, the students attend weekly training seminars focusing on academic and leadership training, civic engagement, and policy writing and implementation.

During a recent seminar with the Skidmore students here at New World, conversations began about the students’ outsider roles coming into organizations they were to be with temporarily. This led to a further observation made by many students on the role of the outsider as students with no history of college attendance in their family entering into college life. These students, like many scholarship students, are moving from communities that are quite distant from the culture of campus to colleges that are quite distant from the community these students grew up in.

One student, a first-generation member of her family to go to college, reflecting on her own personal experience, noted that returning home from school presented difficulties and challenges in relating back to her family. In essence, the neighborhood, the community she once called home now made her feel like an “outsider” looking in. Everything from daily conversations, dress, and family events were all somewhat foreign to her new sense of socialization.

How then can we imagine developing students who will become leaders in their communities if their education mindlessly draws them away from identifying with their own community? To address this powerful challenge, students said they would appreciate their college creating a forum for them to explore this conflict more consciously.

If our goal is to build first-generation college students to emerge as leaders in their communities and not have the college experience isolate them from their families, then attention needs to be paid to this transitional struggle.

America’s colleges can contribute significantly by bringing these students together on campus to build common ground in shared experience, have conversations about how to successfully return home and cultivate inter-ethnic collaboration and base-building in order to sustain long-term community leadership in low-income neighborhoods.

Community based organizations, a vital component of the COIN initiative, are also key here. By empowering them to make deep connections with youth and families in low-income communities as well as utilizing their knowledge of community values while the students are at school will help facilitate fluid reintegration and help prepare youth for college.

As these rich discussions continue, students in the program would like to share their thoughts and contribute their ideas on this theme. NWF will begin posting students’ ideas and snippets of their conversations reflecting on their experience over the course of their summer program.

Stay tuned.

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