FOCUS for first-generation students

By Marcie Molloy

Helping first-generation male students is the focus of a program at a Maryland college.

Chesapeake College (Maryland) is working to boost success rates for first-generation male students. The First-Generation student Opportunity for Career and Ultimate Success (FOCUS) program, offered since 2008, helps these students either graduate or transfer to a four-year institution.

“These first-generation, male students were our least successful in terms of GPA and retention,” said Dana Bowser, director of First Year Programs and founder of FOCUS. “When you’re the first one in your family to go to college, you lack context. College is a completely new world for a first-generation student.”

The biggest challenge, Bowser said, is teaching the students to look ahead.

“It’s not unusual for traditional-aged students to take the short view. They react to the way things are rather than plan and prepare for the future. We work with our FOCUS students to teach them to take the long view. Once they do that, they learn to make adjustments and are less likely to become overwhelmed,” Bowser said.

That long view, she said, helps students with time management, academic planning and goal setting. To help build those skills, the students participate in weekly FOCUS meetings and workshops through the academic year. The program now includes career planning, leadership development and community service.

Meetings include academic counseling sessions, teambuilding and guest speakers from the five-county service area. Recently, Talbot County Councilman Corey Pack spoke to the FOCUS students about dealing with setbacks and giving back to their communities.

Activities this semester include visits to several Maryland four-year colleges and the World Bank in Washington, D.C. The group will volunteer on a home building project in Easton with Habitat for Humanity Choptank.

Later this spring, three FOCUS students will be inducted into Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and three are will graduate in May.

The benefits go beyond seminars and field trips, though, and each cohort form bonds that help the students face challenges and persevere.

“The students really develop a brotherhood and they support one another. That has become a huge part of the program. They look out for one another and hold each other accountable,” Bowser said.

Marcie Molloy

is the director of public information for Chesapeake College in Wye Mills, Maryland.