CONNECTIONS program provides unique resources for first-year, first generation students

students at the Connections retreat in the fall of 2018

Dating back to 2015, Doane has secured more than $10.6 million in federal and foundations grants and major donor contributions in support of university projects and initiatives. Ranging from a few thousand dollars to $2.2 million, some grants are obviously much larger than others. However, some of the smaller grants Doane has received, such as the $5,000 NASPA Innovations grant, are having a big impact on campus.


NASPA, a organization for student affairs professionals in higher education, awarded grants ranging in three levels ($1,000, $1,000-$3,000, and $3,000-$5,000) to support innovation, exploration, and development for NASPA members, regardless of campus membership affiliation. With the help of Sarah Zulkoski, director of grants and foundations relations, Doane secured a $5,000 Innovations grant from NASPA this year.


With this grant, Doane implemented a new leadership retreat for first-year, first generation students this fall. As outlined in the grant proposal, the retreat is one component of a new, comprehensive program for first generation students titled “Doane CONNECTIONS.”


Wilma Jackson, director of multicultural services, oversees the program and planned the retreat, which took place Labor Day weekend.


“This is the first time that Doane has had something for first-year, first generation students to ensure that they got their college career off to a great start,” Jackson said.


The retreat was a one-and-a-half day event, taking place the evening of Friday, August 31 and all day Saturday, September 1. 15 first-year, first generation students signed up for the retreat, along with 14 student mentors, who are also first generation students at Doane.


The retreat kicked off with a welcome dinner for the students, who were able to hear from Dr. Carrie Petr, vice president for student affairs, additional Doane faculty & staff, and current and former Doane first generation students.


Linda Kalbach, professor of education, is a former first generation student herself and shared her story with students on that Friday evening.


“I think the most important contribution is to build a relationship with the students and to understand that when you have parents who didn’t experience college, there are so many ‘unknowns’ that can become potential barriers,” Kalbach said. “The gap in understanding shrinks with every new experience on campus, every interaction at the college and the people in it, particularly if those experiences are rewarding and encouraging.”


On Saturday, students were able to engage in a number of activities that allowed them to get to know each other better, learn tips on navigating college as a freshman, and hear from representatives of different departments on campus, understanding the resources they have available to them at Doane.


Amy Schlichting, director of student wellness and campus life, presented a “Connecting Well” workshop to students, where they discussed nine dimensions of wellness (physical, emotional, interpersonal, intellectual, cultural, spiritual, environmental, financial, and occupational), what students did in high school that contributed to these aspects of overall wellness, and how they can find ways to contribute to multiple dimensions of their overall wellness. Participants completed a personal wellness planner and discussed why it is important to protect your personal wellbeing and to stay true to yourself.


“There are a number of studies that prove students have a higher rate of graduation when they feel socially supported, and this CONNECTIONS retreat was a great program to get students connected not only to each other, but to members of our incredible staff and faculty at Doane who care about their success,” Schlichting said.


Doane was awarded a grant of the highest amount from NASPA, in part, because of its relatively high number of first generation students, the ability to involve multiple departments on campus, and its commitment to increase diversity at the institution and support underrepresented minorities throughout their college careers.


In the fall of 2017, 34% of undergraduate students on the Crete campus were classified as first generation, meaning neither parent enrolled in college. Of the first-year students in the fall of 2017, 13% were first generation. However in the fall of 2016, 40% of first-year students were classified as first generation.


While there are successful academic support systems at Doane for at-risk student populations (Multicultural Support Services, Tiger Success Program, TRiO Student Support Services), prior to the CONNECTIONS program, there was no specific outreach service directed exclusively at the needs of first generation students.


“We want these students to know that they can be supported here at Doane,” Jackson said. “There is a significant increase in first generation students coming into college across the United States. We want these students to be developed into leaders.”


Salvador Delgadillo ’22, a freshman goalkeeper on the men’s soccer team from San Diego, California, was one of the students at the CONNECTIONS retreat.


“It was an eye-opener,” he said. “It was really good to know that there are other students in my shoes. I no longer feel alone in my situation. Having other people to lean on was comforting.”


While the leadership retreat is over, Jackson and her staff plan on organizing a follow-up meeting with all of the students involved this month to see how everyone is doing. The long term goal of the program is for CONNECTIONS to be supported by Student Congress and through permanent outside funding sources.