Freshman Innovation Group: Empowering First-Generation Students by Building a Learning Community
This learning community empowers first-generation students in the College of Liberal Arts to overcome imposter syndrome while helping ease financial burden.
By Rachel Knight ’18
On a sunny day in College Station, Ivoree Hernandez ‘22 picked up the phone to video call her mom. The first-generation student’s family lived 10 hours away, and Hernandez felt guilty for being at school while those she loved most were going through a difficult time at home.
When her mom called a few days before to explain the challenge the family was facing, Hernandez could tell her mom wanted her to be home with everyone else. She felt a tension that she knew wouldn’t be there if she’d stayed home instead of going to school at Texas A&M University. She wondered if she’d feel that same tension when her mom answered the phone today.
Hernandez heard the other end of the line connect. In a warm and loving tone her mom said, “Hi Ivoree! I just want you to know that I am super proud of you. You know this is a struggle, but this is your second year so you’ve proven that you can overcome so many things.”
Tears of joy filled Hernandez’ eyes as her mother’s loving words filled her ears. It was just the message she needed to hear that day.
Hernandez is one of many first-generation college students at Texas A&M, and like Hernandez, most first-generation students struggle with what Leroy G. Dorsey, associate dean for inclusive excellence and strategic initiatives, calls “imposter syndrome.”
“These are students who are at this university, but they don’t quite believe they are good enough to be here,” Dorsey explained.
To help first-generation students conquer imposter syndrome and other unique challenges, Dorsey leads the College of Liberal Arts’ Freshman Innovation Group (FIG). The FIG program creates a learning community that helps first-generation students achieve academic success and thrive socially as they transition to college life.
“The hope is that we can instill in them a confidence that allows them to free themselves of imposter syndrome and to provide them this seamless transition from what they knew as high school and what they will be experiencing at this research institution,” Dorsey shared.
Hernandez said the FIG program played a key role in convincing her mom that pursuing a higher education at Texas A&M was the right thing for her daughter.
“At first she was like, ‘There’s no way that I’m going to send you 10 hours away from me,’” Hernandez remembered. “When she met Dr. Dorsey and found out about the Freshmen Innovation Group, she was like, ‘I’m more than positive about letting you come to this campus, because with this program you’ll have people who can relate to you and that’s very important.’”
Gunnar Baker ‘22, also a College of Liberal Arts first-generation student who participated in the FIG program, said the program emboldened him to do one of the most difficult things — to strike out on his own and be a higher-education pioneer in his family.
“Knowing that I have the support of one of the deans of the College of Liberal Arts is a satisfying feeling,” Baker shared. “Having the FIG program as a backbone and a security net pushed me to do things that I don’t think I would have done if I weren’t in it.”
Empowering students to achieve their full potential by intersecting the lines of thinking that make us better as people is simply what the College of Liberal Arts does, according to Dorsey. The FIG program empowers first-generation students to realize their full potential by showing them they not only belong here, but can excel here in the College of Liberal Arts.
“The FIG program is about helping students see the importance of the learning process through research papers, reflections on social performances that we take them to at OPAS, and helping them realize that the liberal arts provides instructive insight into who they are and who they want to become,” Dorsey said. “[FIG students] will be successful in whatever they do because of this program and because of the College of Liberal Arts.”
You’re the Key to Success
A quick look over the FIG program’s yearly agenda reveals a lot about the secret to its success. Unlike most first-year programs, FIG focuses on both the social and academic transitions into higher education without putting a financial burden on students.
The FIG program teaches students to lead by example. It’s only fitting that the man behind the program’s success sets an example for us all, not just his students. Dorsey’s favorite feature in the program is the meals he personally buys for FIG students.
“It’s a treat to visit with students outside class,” he explained. “And for some first-gen students who were expecting an impersonal experience when arriving on campus, it’s heartening to see the look on their faces when they realize that someone is looking out for them—simply by buying them dinner.”
Your support is the key to success for College of Liberal Arts students and programs. If you’re interested in supporting first generation students or the FIG program, contact Larry Walker at firstname.lastname@example.org or Andrew Millar at email@example.com.
FIG Program Schedule
Pizza Party & Tour of Campus
The Sunday before classes start, the College of Liberal Arts’ advisors help FIG students find their classrooms, and students get the opportunity to make new friends during a group campus tour.
During the fall and spring semesters, students join a learning community of only 25 students per class and gain insightful help from first-generation faculty members and three first-generation student mentors.
First Generation BBQ
In the first week of class, all College of Liberal Arts first generation students gather for barbecue and fun. They also hear from a first-generation alumni guest speaker!
Dinner with Dr. Dorsey
During the second week of class, Dorsey treats the FIG students to dinner at Rosa’s Café!
In October and March, the FIG classes enjoy some pizza and attend an MSC OPAS event.
Twice each semester, the students share a meal together to bond outside of class!
This is a special Thanksgiving Day celebration at the University Club for FIG students.
Throughout the fall, the students hear from alumni and student services across campus like the writing center. In the spring, speakers include associate dean for research and graduate education and student services across campus like the career center.