By: Stephanie Cohen
The transition to college can be especially frightening for First Generation Students who have no idea what to expect when they take their first steps on campus. They sometimes struggle to find their spot where they feel at ease.
To help provide a solution, The University of Alabama’s newest building on campus, Hewson Hall, unveiled a new space on the third floor dedicated to first-generation students:
The Walker and Bill Jones First Generation Spot. Made possible by a gift from Culverhouse College of Business alum Walker Jones and her husband Bill, The Spot provides first-generation students with a place to collaborate, connect, and create a community. This space will serve as a hub for the growing number of first-generation students within Culverhouse to find support and resources during their time at the Capstone.
HOME AWAY FROM HOME
The Joneses hope that first-generation students find a “home away from home” in The Spot. Their interest in first-generation initiatives stems from Bill Jones’ own experience as a first-generation student. “Bill and I support first-generation scholarship programs because Bill was the first to go to college in his family. We know the benefits of a strong support program for these students,” Walker Jones said.
Quoc Hoang, director of experiential learning for Culverhouse, oversees The Spot. Through facilitating multiple focus groups with first-generation students, speaking with Culverhouse faculty and staff, and being a first-generation student himself, Hoang understands multiple perspectives regarding the first-generation experience.
IMPROVING THE FIRST-GENERATION EXPERIENCE
According to Hoang, it is difficult to encapsulate the first-generation experience, because first-generation status is not some observable trait or physical attribute. He believes that The Spot can go a long way in fostering support and growth among first-generation students.
“As we build stronger connections with first-gen programs and resources across UA and create greater visibility for the great work being done by Culverhouse faculty and staff, my hope is that more first gen students will…experience the benefits of being part of a community that’s committed to their success,” Hoang said.
THE POWER OF RELATIONSHIP-BUILDING
For first-generation students like Bran Apgwilym, identifying shared experiences with others has been quite impactful on their time at UA. Apgwilym who graduated December 2021 with both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in marketing through Culverhouse’s Accelerated Master’s Program, has learned that relationship-building is a continual process that requires considerable self-reflection.
His freshman year, Apgwilym felt immense pressure to fit in. Over the next few years, however, he learned the benefits of being his most authentic self. An experience that paved this way of thinking for Apgwilym was participation in Legacy Scholars, a first-year experience for first-generation students at UA. He started in the program as a freshman and continued on to a mentorship role over the next few years. Apgwilym hopes to return to UA and invest in the first-generation community after he graduates: “[The first-generation community] has been an incredible part of my life, so I want to be able to giveback to it in any way possible.”