By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – Faith Hasbrouck can’t wait to start classes at the University of Nebraska at Kearney.
“I’m really excited,” the incoming freshman said. “I feel like I’m the only person who’s like, ‘Yes, let’s go to class. Let’s do this.’”
She wouldn’t have told you that one week ago.
When Hasbrouck arrived on campus, she was nervous – really nervous. Like many first-generation college students, the Cozad High School graduate doubted her ability to succeed in higher education.
“I did not think I could do it,” she said. “I did not think I deserved to even step one foot on the UNK campus. I was like, I’m not going to do well. I’m going to waste a bunch of money. And I’m going to drop out.”
Throughout her time in the First-Gen Trailblazer Academy, she heard an entirely different message. You belong here. You can do this. There might be obstacles along the way, but you have the ability to persevere and earn a college degree.
“We’re not letting people in just to let them in. We accept students because we believe they’re going to graduate and go on to successful careers. And UNK is going to help them get there,” said Aaron Estes, director of the UNK Academic Success Offices and a member of the First Generation Leadership Team on campus.
Led by the UNK Learning Commons, the Trailblazer Academy was launched this year to provide another level of support for first-generation students as they transition to college. The five-day program is a “practice run” for the fall semester, allowing them to explore campus, experience classes and develop close connections before the real thing begins.
“We want our first-generation students to get off to a strong start during their first semester so they can build early momentum and carry that forward throughout their college careers,” Estes said.
The Trailblazer Academy is designed to feel like a typical week in college. Participants attend classes taught by UNK instructors, eat meals together in the campus dining hall, meet with academic advisers and faculty members and learn strategies that will help them succeed in the future. They’re also introduced to campus resources such as TRIO Student Support Services, Student Health and Counseling, Academic Advising and Career Development, Loper 2 Loper Mentoring and the First Gen Lopers student organization.
“We know that when students are connected they tend to be more successful here, so we tried to create an experience that fosters a sense of community and allows them to be part of something bigger,” said Emily Bahr, assistant director of the Learning Commons.
Relationships are an important aspect of the program.
In addition to the academic components, students participated in a game night, scavenger hunt, ice cream social and other team-building activities. On the academy’s final day, each student was asked to identify at least one person they can turn to for assistance on campus – a place where around 45% of the undergraduate student population and numerous faculty and staff are first-generation.
“That’s probably the most important outcome,” said Patrick Hargon, director of the Learning Commons. “They may forget everything we told them, but those relationships will see them through.”
Twenty students were part of the inaugural First-Gen Trailblazer Academy. Although the summer bridge program ended Thursday, they will get together multiple times during the upcoming semester to discuss their challenges and successes.
With newfound confidence, Hasbrouck is ready to begin her journey toward becoming an elementary art teacher.
“I want to make sure kids are introduced to art and inspire them to be creative,” she said.
She also wants to be a role model for her younger brother, who has never seen an immediate family member graduate from college.
“I want to prove that this is something we can do,” Hasbrouck said. “I want to motivate him to come to college, as well.”
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