“It starts with bravery.” This is the first response you’ll receive when you ask Dr. Gilda Gely, the new provost and executive vice president of academic affairs at Davenport University, how first-generation students are finding success at Davenport. Since joining the university in July 2019, Dr. Gely has held a tight focus on ensuring that all minority and first-generation students thrive personally and academically.
“Davenport is already seeing incredible retention results with nearly 77% of students reaching graduation,” said Dr. Gely. “But we know we can help our students achieve greater success by offering increased focus for our minority and first-generation students.”
According to the National Center for Education Statistics data, first-generation students tend to graduate at lower rates than their peers. These students face significant academic, financial and cultural challenges. Adding to their stress, many first-gen students must work full- or part-time to fund their education and provide for the rest of their household while simultaneously serving as a role model for younger siblings and generations to come. As a result of these hardships, nearly 90% of low-income, first-generation students across the nation are not able to graduate within six years.
“It requires so much bravery to come to college when advanced schooling may be outside of your family’s norms,” said Dr. Gely. “Add to that a serious lack of funding, support and knowledge of the traditional college application and financial aid process, and it starts to become clear how these students are finding themselves at a disadvantage.”
A first-generation student herself, Dr. Gely has felt the challenges these students face. As one of four siblings born to parents who never finished college in Puerto Rico, she had to overcome language and cultural barriers while attending college thousands of miles away from home.
“I was fortunate to have parents who made college a nonnegotiable,” said Dr. Gely. “But many students who are attending college don’t have that support or foundation, and that can seriously impact whether a student makes it to college in the first place — let alone graduation.”
In her first year on the job at Davenport University, Dr. Gely is focused on kicking off a concerted effort to support students in their first year of college. With support from an intragrant-awarding legacy fund created by the M.E. Davenport Family Foundation, she and her team have launched a first-generation initiative that provides peer mentoring and targeted activities to ensure all students are able to succeed in their first year of college. From help setting up class schedules to help studying for upcoming exams or navigating college structures and policies, these peers discuss and address challenges that students may be facing to ensure no student is left behind.
Dr. Gely and team lead Jodi Hicks launched the pilot program in January and will continue to monitor participants and their outcomes into the fall. Their goal is to grow a strong, cohesive and all-inclusive approach to help first-generation students thrive in college because surviving is simply not enough.
“The focus of Davenport’s mission is to help students achieve a better life by preparing them for successful careers,” added Dr. Gely. “This program aligns with our mission by removing barriers for first-generation students and rewarding their bravery with the tools and support they need to be successful.”
“It requires so much bravery to come to college
when advanced schooling may be outside of
your family’s norms.”