03 says he was able to take advantage of a range of educational
opportunities at SU.
its history, Syracuse University has welcomed and strongly
supported students who are the first in their families to
Syracuse University students, college is a rite of passage
they have anticipated for years. They may have any number
of reasons for attending SU, including expectations of family
and friends as well as the internalized cultural values that
have made higher education a measure of personal achievement.
Most of these students have heard firsthand accounts from
the people closest to them of everything from wacky roommates
and finals madness to must-take courses and life-altering
professors, and they arrive for freshman year at least somewhat
informed about what to expect of college.
An interest in social work led Rebecca Oliver 06
hundreds of other studentsthe precise number is not
knowna college education is not something they have
ever taken for granted. For them, the decision to continue
schooling beyond high school signals a break, rather than
a continuity, in family tradition. They are first-generation
studentsthe first in their familys history to
attend college. They come to SU from urban high-rises and
rural communities, from across the United States and abroad.
They represent a variety of socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic
backgrounds, and they face challenges that are generally invisible
to their classmates. Most first-generation college students
do not have the benefit of informal communication about higher
education, which makes it difficult for them to construct
realistic expectationsculturally, socially, academically,
and financially, says JoAnn K. May, director of SUs
Office of Supportive Services, which offers a constellation
of advising, counseling, and tutorial services to undergraduates.
They are dealing with a system that is completely unknown
Sumner 03, who completed a B.S. degree in information
technology and management, with a minor in finance, is the
son of immigrant parentshis mother is from Jamaica;
his father, Guyana. He grew up in the East New York section
of Brooklyn, an area he describes as an all-black-and-Latino
neighborhoodminus the white undercover detectives.
With little else to go on, Sumner came to SU with ideas of
college life drawn mostly from popular culture. I thought
it was supposed to be what I saw in movies: wild parties,
sports games, and social freedom, he says. To
a certain extent, thats true. But my four years werent
exactly what I had envisioned.
Sumner got information and counseling that enabled him to
take full advantage of SU educational opportunities, ranging
from a math clinic that helped him master freshman calculus
to a semester abroad in Hong Kong. He learned a lot outside
the classroom as well. It was a shock to meet suburban
white kids who thought listening to Jay-Z and Biggie made
them understand the ghetto, he says.
Oliver 06 started working after school at age 15 with
no expectations of going to college. However, the Syracuse
native did so well academically in high school that she decided
to consider it. In June 2002, she was a recipient of Empire
BlueCross BlueShields Edwin R. Werner Scholarship for
Academic Excellence and Public Service, chosen as 1 of only
4 winners out of more than 10,000 applicants. The scholarship
allowed her to attend the school of her choiceand she
selected SU because of the reputation of its social work program.
Ive had jobs in restaurants and hotels, but I
prefer to work directly with people in a way that makes me
feel like Im doing something worthwhile, instead of
punching a clock, she says. Now a social work major
in the College of Human Services and Health Professions, she
is a deans list student and a Chancellors Scholar.
James K. Duah-Agyeman G99, center, director
of student support and multicultural education, speaks
as one first-generation student to another, meeting
with Warren Howe 04, left, and other students.
Jacirys Dominguez 06 arrived on the Hill from the Bronx,
not sure what to expect. My parents were really proud
that someone from the family was going to college, she
says. They bragged to everybody that I was going to
Syracuse. But they really werent familiar with all the
practical stuff that was involved. She credits her fellow
students and professors with helping her adjust. One of her
first goals in college was to improve her writing, and she
achieved this through tutorial services made available by
the University. The people Ive met here are exceptional,
she says. They really made me feel at home. Even the
upperclassmen are really welcoming.
who plans to major in accounting, had a busy first year, exploring
a variety of creative learning opportunities. She joined La
Lucha (SUs Latino student organization), danced with
the Raices Dance Workshop, and volunteered at a community
centerwhile maintaining a 3.1 grade point average. The
main problem for me was learning to manage my time,
she says. Im not complaining about my grades.
But now that I have the hang of it, Ill do better.
SU academic counselor Christopher Weiss offers advice
to Tyisha Wallace 04.
Marcus Solis 91 who, like Dominguez, came to Syracuse
from the Bronx, remembers experiencing a sense of unreality
when he first arrived on campus. I thought I had landed
on another planet, says Solis, now a reporter for WABC-TV
in New York. James K. Duah-Agyeman G99, director of
student support and multicultural education, finds nothing
unusual about Soliss first impression. It really
can be like another world for students who are from radically
different environments or who are the first in their families
to go off to college, he says. As a first-generation
college student who immigrated to the United States from Ghana,
Duah-Agyeman speaks from both personal and professional experience.
But I can tell you this about Syracuse: If you impressed
us enough to be accepted here, then we will do everything
possible to help you feel at home at this institution and
to succeed academically, he says.
Democratic Mission of Higher Education
The commitment to student success that Duah-Agyeman speaks
of is a hallmark of the Universitys Academic Plan, running
deep in Syracuse tradition and extending to every student.
There is general agreement that in the case of Gen-1ers, this
basic responsibility takes on even greater significance. Access
to higher education for these breakthrough students serves
as an indicator of the health of American democracy, an affirmation
that the fundamental structure of a merit-based society remains
intact despite the prejudices of every kind that continue
to hamper the cultivation of talent. This is particularly
important at private universities, which may have been perceived
as uncaring or uninterested in students who come to college
from atypical environments, says Horace H. Smith, associate
vice president of undergraduate studies.
For Tara Parker 04, prestige was
a factor in her decision to attend SU.
many universities can trace their efforts to recruit a diverse,
upwardly mobile student body back to the social upheavals
of the 1960s, Syracuse has been at the job quite a bit longer.
The University admitted women and African Americans to its
earliest classes in the 1870s, and has launched pioneering
programs in continuing education since the turn of the 20th
more than any other private university in the country, Syracuse
led the way in seizing the unprecedented opportunity for access
to higher education created by the GI Bill of Rights, which
provided full tuition benefits to returning World War II veterans.
During the years following the war, the Hill was covered with
prefabricated Quonset huts to house the crush of new students,
many of them from families that had never sent children to
college; some whose parents were barely literate. Determined
to keep the doors open to every qualified applicant, SU went
so far as to establish auxiliary regional campuses in Utica
(which evolved into Utica College, now an independent institution
affiliated with SU) and in Endicott (the forerunner of todays
Binghamton University, part of the SUNY system).
campus was so crowded with veterans when I arrived that I
couldnt even get a place in a Quonset hut and had to
rent a room off campus, says SU Trustee Lee N. Blatt
51, founder and chair of Herley Industries Inc. (see
related story). But we were serious about getting
an education, and the professors did everything to be helpful
to us. Though he attended SU more than a half-century
earlier, Blatt traveled a path to a college degree that is
remarkably similar to that of fellow graduate Khalid Sumner.
Both were born and raised in immigrant households in Brooklyn;
both attended Brooklyn Tech, one of New York Citys academically
elite public high schools; and both chose SU.
C. Wilson, associate director of the Office of Supportive
Services, is convinced that SUs extraordinary commitment
to the GI Bill still benefits the University. I believe
it helped make Syracuse a more hospitable place for todays
first-generation college students, he says. We
have so many successful alumni who went through that experience
in the Quonset huts. Its not surprising that they support
us in the things we do to keep Syracuse in the business of
SU Matthew Hamilton 04 credits SUs SummerStart
program with helping him acclimate to the campus and
get ahead academically before the start of his freshman
is the Key
Long-term success in the education of first-generation college
students depends on a universitys ability to find and
attract a steady flow of qualified candidates. SU is aided
in its efforts to recruit and maintain promising candidates
by two seminal programs, each addressed to a different set
of student needs. The U.S. Department of Educations
Student Support Services Program (SSSP) is specifically designed
to aid students whose high school records meet all SU admission
standards, but who are in need of special academic advising,
personal counseling, and focused tutorial services. SSSP has
three eligibility requirements, any one of which qualifies
a student for benefits: economic need so pronounced that even
with SUs full financial aid award, family hardship is
likely; medically documented learning disabilities requiring
skilled tutorial services; and status as a first-generation
college student, indicating a need for special advising.
SUs Gen-1 students gain admission through normal criteria.
But the University is committed to making further efforts
at accessibility by seeking out high school graduates and
general education degree-holders who demonstrate college potential,
but whose academic credentials dont meet normal admission
standards because of social and educational disadvantages.
To make college possible for such students, SU collaborates
with New York States Higher Education Opportunity Program
(HEOP), an initiative established in 1969 to expand opportunities
at the states independent colleges and universities.
Careful recruitment is crucial in making HEOP work,
Wilson says. It does no goodfor anyoneto
admit an individual who has given no indication of being able
to succeed at college-level work. To the contrary, it can
set up a damaging failure. When we know the high school record
is not as strong as wed like for Syracuse, we look for
other things, especially voluntary activities, such as after-school
clubs, Saturday morning academies, church organizationsanything
that embodies the positive principle of participation above
and beyond the classroom. We need something that tells us,
This student makes an extra effort!
Jacirys Dominguez 06 says Multicultural Weekend
made her feel comfortable on campus.
Weiss, an academic counselor with the Office of Supportive
Services, believes SUs reputation is a positive factor
in attracting the most qualified students among those eligible
for HEOP assistance. I think our outreach is helped
a lot by word of mouth, Weiss says. We have a
good reputation among guidance counselors at many downstate
schools. They know we provide the services their students
need, and they have confidence in sending their best to us.
and Wilson agree that, with a majority of HEOP-eligible students
living downstate, Syracuses location works both ways
as a factor in their college decisions. In some cases the
prospect of breaking free of urban problems outweighs the
anxiety of separation from family. In other instances, parents
who have successfully nurtured a talented child in a threatening
environment may feel the need to continue keeping a tight
rein by choosing a local college. Close family bonds
often play a crucial role in the students life,
Wilson says. In some immigrant families, for example,
young people have assumed caretaker roles. They may be the
only English speakers in the house, and the family might depend
on them to speak to shopkeepers or even to answer the phone.
When an immigrant student happens to live nearby, this kind
of situation works in our favor.
the case with Adelena Bagdasarova 01, a DeWitt, New
York, resident. The University waived the normal campus residency
requirement for Bagdasarova, so she could keep up her family
obligations by living at home while attending school full
time. We are Armenians who were forced to leave Azerbaijan
because of war between the two countries after the breakup
of the U.S.S.R., she says. I applied to several
other schools, but I chose SU because its close to home
and offered many degrees and programs that allowed me to explore
my interests. I also liked SU because the campus was so beautiful.
from war-torn countries, decaying neighborhoods, or isolated
rural areas, a school with a picture-book campus can be an
attraction. I wanted to go away to school and have a
college experience, says Jacirys Dominguez. I
came up for Multicultural Weekend [a pre-freshman event hosted
by the Office of Admissions] and decided to go to SU. I felt
comfortable. I liked the atmosphere and the people.
04, a psychology major in the College of Arts and Sciences
from Paterson, New Jersey, admits that prestige
played a role in her decision to attend SU rather than one
of several state schools that had accepted her. She was also
heavily influenced by her campus visit. I learned a
lot about what Syracuse has to offer, she says. Parker
feels she benefited from SUs SummerStart, a six-week,
pre-freshman program that helped me get in tune with
college, she says. Matthew Hamilton 04, a student
in the L.C. Smith College of Engineering and Computer Science,
had good things to say about SummerStart as well. I
got to know the campus, meet new people, and get ahead on
credits before the fall semester of my freshman year even
began, says the Staten Island resident.
is open to all newly admitted freshmen, but those coming to
SU in the SSSP and HEOP programs are required to participate.
Students spend the summer living on campus and enjoying recreational
and leisure activities while taking up to nine credits in
regular summer school courses. This program is extremely
important, says Duah-Agyeman. The students get
a realistic exposure to college work and they are able to
form social networks. When autumn comes, they are ready.
figures from the New York State Department of Education point
to just how ready Syracuses first-generation college
students are. The Universitys HEOP students, many of
whom are Gen-1ers, achieved a graduation rate of 74.6 percent
in 2002, using the standard measure of tracking the number
of bachelors degrees earned within 6 years of admission.
That percentage aligns closely with the campus-wide graduation
rate of 77 percent for students who entered SU in the fall
1996 semester. Horace Smith feels that SU receives much in
return for its efforts in keeping the doors open to the broadest
population possible. The diversity we achieve here on
campus is increasingly reflected in the broader society,
he says. Moreover, the byproduct of the outstanding
student graduation rates we are achieving among first-generation
college students is creating an important byproduct for Syracuse
University: an alumni community that will help ensure the
future of this institution.