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We Are Liberal Arts: Blazing a trail with FIG

The College of Liberal Arts’s Freshman Innovation Group (FIG) creates a community to make all of the “firsts” a little less daunting for the trailblazing first-gen student.

By Alix Poth ‘18

That “first” feeling can be a nerve-wracking one. The first day on a new job; the first conversation with a person you’ve just met; the first day of class for a first-generation college student. 

This is where the College of Liberal Arts’s Freshman Innovation Group (FIG) comes in: it creates a community to make all of the “firsts” a little less daunting for the trailblazing first-gen student.

The FIG program is a College of Liberal Arts-specific initiative that provides incoming, first-generation freshmen a learning community involving a small network of faculty, advisors, and administrators in partnership with students. 

These students are the pioneers who are the first in their family to earn an undergraduate degree at a university.  They break new ground in their families with their academic journeys. Almost 30 percent of all liberal arts majors are first-gen. 

The FIG effort is headed up by Leroy G. Dorsey, associate dean for inclusive excellence and strategic initiatives. He said his goal is to help the first-gen students that tend to suffer from “imposter syndrome.” 

“These are students who are at this university, but they don’t quite believe they’re good enough to be here,” Dorsey said. “The hope is that we can instill in them a confidence that they can free themselves of the imposter syndrome… and to provide them a seamless transition between what they knew as high school students and what they will be experiencing at this research institution.” 

Gunnar Baker ‘22, a political science major and first-gen student, said the FIG program helped  mind the gap of entering into an unknown college experience. It also provided a security net that enabled him to do things he wouldn’t have done otherwise. 

“Knowing that I have the support of one of the deans of the College of Liberal Arts is such a satisfying feeling,” Baker said. “Knowing that I can go to him at a time of need — and he personally knows me because of the FIG program.” 

Similarly, Ivoree Hernandez ‘22, said that Dorsey and other faculty members were there to remind the first-gen students that they are brave, strong, and going to flourish in this new experience. 

“The first word that comes to mind [about first-gen students] is bravery,” she said. Hernandez’s mother was afraid to send her daughter off into the unknown world of college, but the FIG program also invites first-gen parents to experience the university, demonstrate the community that is formed, and give insight and confidence into what the students will experience. 

The College of Liberal Arts is dedicated to setting all students up for success in their future — and none more so than the pioneering first-generation students. 

“The College of Liberal Arts is a college that intersects the lines of thinking that will make us better as a people,” Dorsey said. “The FIG program does the same thing. FIG students will be successful in whatever they do because of this program, and because of the College of Liberal Arts.”