St. Olaf College | News

Connecting for success

For first-generation college students, meaningful connections on campus are often the key to success. 

It’s why St. Olaf College offers  Connect for Success, a program that for the past few years has connected students who are the first in their families to attend college with faculty and staff mentors, events, and resources.

The program aims to build awareness and pride among First Gen students, faculty, and staff. On the first week of school, first-generation students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to pin a button on their shirt that reads “I’m First!” — an idea created and organized by the Connect for Success program.

First-generation students, faculty, and staff are encouraged to pin a button on their shirt that reads “I’m First!”

Director of Advising and Academic Support Kathy Glampe ’92, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Chris George ’94, and Academic Enrichment Specialist Nayeli Trujillo created the program two years ago to connect first-generation students with resources to help them thrive at St. Olaf. They adapted the program from work already taking place in the Center for Advising and Academic Support (CAAS) but with a smaller number of students. This allowed Connect for Success to be more personal and cater to individual needs. 

Participants are invited to monthly social programs for connecting with peer leaders, and they meet regularly with a faculty or staff mentor. 

“There are numerous studies showing that having a mentor in college has a host of positive impacts on success and well-being during and after college,” says George. “We have seen a steady growth in the number of first-generation students coming to St. Olaf, as well as some signs that retention for this group is lower than class average.”

Connect for Success has evolved each year based on student feedback. During the first year, the leaders of the program learned that building connections among students as well as their mentor was an important component of the program in addition to workshops on college topics —  registration, mindfulness, study strategies sleep, and college resources — so they shifted the program to reflect the interest. Now the program is more balanced so students can get the most out of the resources provided. 

St. Olaf students proudly display their “I’m First!” buttons.

Connect for Success has been well received by St. Olaf students, faculty, and staff. The program has grown in participants and scope every year. 

“As the year continues, we will continue to evaluate what are the best opportunities and ways to connect first-generation students with one another, with mentors, and the resources at the college,” George says. 

During the first week of November — leading up to the National First-Generation College Celebration recognized annually on November 8 — St. Olaf hosted daily events for the campus community to learn more about first-generation student experiences and celebrate their achievements at St. Olaf.