New director to focus on concerns and needs of first-generation students

A search committee composed of students, an alumna and staff members is currently reviewing applications. Stanford hopes to hire someone to fill the post this quarter.

The Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs plans to hire an associate dean and director of diversity and first-gen programs – a new post – to help students who are first in their families to attend a four-year college and low-income students successfully navigate the unfamiliar terrain of college life.

A 13-member search committee is currently reviewing applications for the position, which was posted July 30. The university hopes to hire the director this quarter.

The search committee is composed of undergraduate students, an alumna of the Class of 2010 and staff members from Bechtel International Center, the Black Community Services Center, El Centro Chicano, the Financial Aid Office, the Haas Center for Public Service, Residential Education and Undergraduate Advising and Research.

Currently, 1,038 students, or 15.2 percent of Stanford's undergraduate population, are first-generation students, said Richard Shaw, the university's dean of undergraduate admission and financial aid.

"Of course I think it's fantastic that Stanford will have a staff member dedicated to supporting first-generation students," Shaw said, adding that the new director will play an important role identifying and coordinating activities designed to making the transition to Stanford positive and more seamless.

Experts say that navigating college life can be challenging for first-generation students, who may experience conflicting emotions about their accomplishment – excitement and anxiety, pride and shame, confidence and confusion.

"First-generation students have unique challenges transitioning to college, because their parents and siblings don't have prior college experience to share with them," said Greg Boardman, vice provost for student affairs.

"This position will allow us to make a significant impact in supporting the needs of first-generation students, in partnership with other resources on campus, including counseling services, advising resources and community centers."

Boardman said Stanford is thankful to the generous donor (who wishes to remain anonymous) whose contribution will fund the position for the next five years.

Sally Dickson, an associate vice provost for student affairs at Stanford, noted that first-generation students, who tend to come from low-income families, are an extremely diverse population that includes multiple communities.

"The student whose parents are making $20,000 a year has had a different life experience from a student whose family is making $2 million or $200,000 a year," she said. "If you factor race into that experience, or factor sexual orientation into that experience, you have an even deeper dimension of those experiences. How do we understand that? How do we grapple with that? The new director will help us engage in discussions about the intersection of identity and socioeconomic class."

Among the director's many responsibilities, s/he will be expected to:

  • Set the vision for and engage students and the Student Affairs division in examination, integration and education regarding multiculturalism, cross- cultural communication and social justice – targeting the concerns and needs of first-generation and low-income students.
  • Contribute to a comprehensive effort to retain first-generation students and support their academic success by collaborating with key campus partners.
  • Review and identify the "best practices" at peer institutions, especially those that have an infrastructure in place that supports the social and academic experiences of first-generation and low-income students.
  • Plan and implement a variety of social and educational programs for at-risk students.

"Many offices, including the community centers, have been working with this cohort of students," Dickson said. "This new position will provide an additional resource. It also will give us the ability to work collaboratively to address our common goals."

She said the new director also would develop diversity programs for students.

"All of our students are going to be leaders interacting with a very diverse world," Dickson said. "We want to make sure that when they leave Stanford they have been engaged in thinking about how to interact with people who are different from them, whether the differences are racial, cultural, socioeconomic or related to sexual orientation or nationality."