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Obstacles for first-generation low-income (“FGLI") students

Obstacles for first-generation low-income (“FGLI") students

Socioeconomic status is a significant indicator for college retention and advancement to professional degrees. For first-generation-low-income (FGLI) students, many financial/non-financial obstacles exist.

Most intuitive are the financial obstacles, such as supporting family, lack of familial financial support, and lack of pre-college resources (tutoring/SAT prep). This is particularly true in the biomedical sciences due to lengthy training periods that feature lower pay and a lack of standard employee benefits, relative to their non-academic peers. Further, many FGLI students can’t volunteer in research labs to become competitive for graduate programs because they often work part-time jobs to “make-ends-meet”.

Non-financial obstacles also exist, such as imposter syndrome, survivor’s guilt, family achievement gap, loss of belonging at home while climbing socioeconomic ladder, and lack of knowledge of the academic rules/structures for success. The intersectionality of overlapping identities (gender, race, sexuality, and disability) further compounds this. These challenges often continue throughout the trainee’s career.

In this presentation, I will address these challenges and discuss ways in which the IRACDA host-institution, University of Pennsylvania, and IRACDA partner-institution, Rutgers University-Camden, are together addressing these obstacles at the high school and undergraduate-level to improve FGLI student sense of belonging, retention, and outcomes. This includes PENN-FIRST (FGLI office with programming for FGLI students and Faculty education on FGLI issues), Bridging-the-Gap (tuition-free education at Rutgers-Camden to FGLI students), and the pursuit of NIH funding mechanisms between the two universities that provides underrepresented undergraduates with research-stipends. These programs will set the stage for a more equitable future in the biomedical sciences.

Nathan Fried, PhD

July 17, 2018
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  1. Nathan T. Fried, PhD
    PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow,
    Assistant Professor at Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18)
    Obstacles for first-generation low-income (“Figly”) students and
    institutional strategies to improve their success and retention

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  2. Nathan T. Fried, PhD
    PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow,
    Assistant Professor at Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18)

    View full-size slide

  3. Nathan T. Fried, PhD
    PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow,
    Assistant Professor at Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18)
    What is a
    first-generation
    and/or
    low-income
    student?
    < ~$60-65K/yr for
    family of four
    It’s complicated

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  4. Neither parent earned a BS?
    One parent went to some college, but didn’t complete a degree.
    A student’s uncle went to college.
    What if your older brother went to college?
    What if it was an absentee parent who went to college?
    Depending on the definition, the population ranges between 22-73% (Toutkoushian, 2015)
    What is a first-generation student?

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  5. Neither parent earned a BS?
    One parent went to some college, but didn’t complete a degree.
    A student’s uncle went to college.
    What if your older brother went to college?
    What if it was an absentee parent who went to college?
    Depending on the definition, the population ranges between 22-73% (Toutkoushian, 2015)
    What is a first-generation student?

    View full-size slide

  6. Neither parent earned a BS?
    One parent went to some college, but didn’t complete a degree.
    A student’s uncle went to college.
    What if your older brother went to college?
    What if it was an absentee parent who went to college?
    Depending on the definition, the population ranges between 22-73% (Toutkoushian, 2015)
    What is a first-generation student?

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  7. RUC and UPenn recognize the spectrum of first-
    generation issues by de-emphasizing the definition.
    UPenn
    “The FGLI program also welcomes all students
    who identify as first-generation for any of the
    multitude of ways this identity can be defined
    contextually.”
    Rutgers
    “Any student who may self-identify as not
    having prior exposure to or knowledge of an
    experience like Rutgers and may find having
    resources to assist in the transition helpful.
    This could be because your parents attended
    college in a different educational system (in
    the USA or in another country), because the
    part of your family you have close contact
    with did not go to college, or many other
    reasons.”

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  8. The underlying issue that
    FGLI students face is also complex
    Awareness Gap
    Achievement Gap
    Opportunity Gap
    Social Class Transition
    Underrepresented
    Minorities, people w/
    disabilities, women,
    LGBTQ in STEM.

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  9. The underlying issue that
    FGLI students face is also complex
    Imposter syndrome on campus: “I don’t belong here. It’s a fluke. Sure, I’m smart, but I’m not
    college-smart like they are and they’re gonna eventually find out.”
    Alienation at home: unsupportive or even obstructionist family and friends. Living in two
    worlds and not being accepted in either. “Oh look, it’s college.” “Your all fancy now.”
    Survivor's Guilt: negative feelings when one succeeds and escapes adverse conditions when
    close others have not. “Well, SOME of us weren’t lucky enough to go to college!”
    College readiness w/ little advice: Parents and family don’t have the knowledge to navigate
    college or college-level careers. “You can do whatever you set your mind to” and “Do what you
    love.” - Angel D’az
    Financial pressures: Food court closed over holiday? Need for part-time job.
    Sense of belonging: Professors are not from my background. Students are not from my
    background. Is this REALLY a place where I belong?

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  10. The underlying issue that
    FGLI students face is also complex
    (STEM-specific)
    Volunteering in a lab: “Well, if you REALLY loved science, you would commit 20 hrs working for
    free every week.”
    Science Identity: I met my first PhD (in French) when I was in 9th grade. I couldn’t see myself in
    that world! The first heart-to-heart with a PhD in college, she described to me how she had
    been reading scientific journals since she was in middle school. “I’m not cut out for this! I just
    learned about Scientific American in 12th grade!”
    Fear & Anxiety communicating w/ faculty, staff, and peers: “These professors SCARE THE HELL
    out of me. How am I going to make a personal connection w/ them to advance in this field!?”

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  11. And then you do the UNTHINKABLE,
    by going to grad school & a postdoc!?
    (PhD takes about 5-6 yrs. Postdoc takes another 5-7 yrs)
    Stipends are enough…for one mistake/problem: $29K in grad school, $50K in postdoc. It’s
    enough, but only for one unexpected problem (bad financial decision, health costs, etc)
    No dental insurance in many grad schools: after years of not having access to a dentist
    Lack of Financial Planning: No retirement/investments until well into your 30s.
    Imposter Syndrome: It NEVER goes away.
    Reimbursements take FOREVER: Students can’t fall back on family income.
    Is grad school financially-irresponsible?: My father is 74, mom is 64. They have no savings. Can
    I REALLY justify a 5-7 yr postdoc? Time is running out & it has NOTHING to do w/my passion
    for science.
    Further you go, attrition of those like you: Less & less you see people from your background.
    Out of the cultural-loop: Not knowing names of different famous schools…at every step, I’m
    one step behind.

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  12. Institutional strategies to improve their
    success and retention in STEM
    Money is not enough
    New initiatives and groups are being
    created at Penn and Rutgers to build
    community and identity

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  13. Nathan T. Fried, PhD
    PENN-PORT IRACDA Fellow,
    Assistant Professor at Rutgers Camden (Fall ’18)

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  14. Intersectionality of these issues in the
    context of other identities amplifies
    these problems.

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