Davenport helps first-gen student overcome obstacles to realize his dreams

Davenport University’s first-generation program, which provides support services to first-generation students, has improved the retention of participating students by 78%.

Jessie Devine, BBA ’23, is no stranger to hard work. He spent eight years working 60 hours a week, providing for his family. But the long hours and weekends away from home began to take a toll. He wanted a better life for himself and his eleven-year-old daughter, but the path forward was unclear. After a great deal of soul-searching, he realized it wasn’t a lack of talent or effort holding him back; it was a lack of a quality education.

Then one day, a split-second decision changed the trajectory of his life. He was on his way home after another long day at work. He was tired, fed up with his situation, and desperately needed a change. As he approached Davenport’s Holland campus, he was reminded of ads he’d heard about how the university’s students benefit from professors with real-world experience. At that moment, feeling as if he had nothing to lose, Devine pulled into the parking lot, walked into the building, and asked to speak with an admissions representative.

Looking back on that day, Devine is so happy he took those first steps toward investing in a future that didn’t require him to work seven days a week. “At the time, I wasn’t even sure if I was college material,” he said. “But the admissions representative, Kristen Evenhouse, assured me that if a college degree is what I wanted, Davenport could make it happen!”

Devine left the meeting feeling hopeful but unsure if he could succeed at the collegiate level. With Evenhouse’s continued support, Devine realized that confidence was the only thing standing in his way of a college degree. “I remember feeling terrible that she (Evenhouse) believed in me more than I believed in myself,” he said, “And that gave me the motivation I needed to enroll.”

The following semester Devine attended his first class as a Panther. He’d always been good with numbers, so a degree in finance was a perfect fit. “I really wanted a degree that would give me the skills to build a bright financial future for myself and those in the underprivileged areas where I grew up,” he said. 

Devine was finally on his way to turning his life around, but he still had a few more hurdles to clear first. As a first-generation student (one whose parents do not have a bachelor’s degree), Devine admits he faced many challenges before he stepped foot in a classroom. “I was intimidated at first,” he said. “I was completely unfamiliar with the process of getting a college education and wasn’t sure how I’d respond to the classes.”

Devine is not alone in his uncertainty. First-generation students are twice as likely to leave college within three years than students whose parents have a bachelor’s degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). 

While Devine struggled at first, his fears about whether he could be successful in college were short-lived, thanks in large part to Davenport’s First-Generation Initiative, which offers programming and strategic activities designed to support first-generation students.  The program ensures that these students have the resources and support they need to overcome the academic, emotional and financial obstacles so many of them face. 

One of the most beneficial components of the program for Devine was the ACES class, which teaches first-generation students how to be successful during the first year of college. 

Additional program components that help first-gen students thrive in their first year of college and ultimately reach graduation include:

  • Peer mentoring program, which pairs first-gen students with an upper-level mentor to help navigate the college experience
  • Fostering a sense of belonging by connecting students with staff members, faculty and other students
  • Academic coaching
  • Study skills and time management training
  • Workshops and speakers

“This program is near and dear to my heart because I can see how it positively affects our students,” said Dr. Jodi Hicks, director of student transitions and academic readiness at Davenport. “Being able to help a first-generation student be successful and see the impact it has on their family is just so powerful!”

Devine wholeheartedly agrees with Dr. Hicks and the program’s ability to transform lives. “Davenport has helped me be successful as a first-generation student by giving me the confidence to overcome adversity and find solutions in tough situations,” he said. “I now believe I can do anything if I just put my mind to it!”

Evanhouse couldn’t be happier for Devine. “I vividly remember meeting Jessie,” she said. “He had such a drive to be successful and a role model for other young men of color. I knew he was destined for great things and am so thankful I was able to play a small part in getting him started on the road to success!”

Devine, a proud 2023 graduate with a bachelor’s in finance, is currently working for Davenport’s admissions call center. He recently began looking for a job in finance and would like to eventually own his own business and mentor young men looking to succeed. 

According to Hicks, everyone deserves the chance to reach their goals and become who they want to be. Devine is a perfect example that anything is possible if one believes in themselves and is willing to work hard to achieve their goals. 

“I always knew a better life was within my reach,” said Devine. “I’m proud of what I have accomplished and hope I’ve inspired my daughter to dream big and never fear failure!”

Learn more about the First-Gen Initiative at Davenport.


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