For most students, college is an exciting experience. With stories told from siblings or parents, people can expect what is to come when they get to campus.
For first-generation students, this experience can seem daunting. Being the first to go to college can become isolating if you don’t know who you can reach out to.
David Wolff, a Doctorate student in the educational leadership program, presented his dissertation, “Retaining First-Generation College Students: Faculty and Staff Perceptions,” at the 25th Annual Student Academic Conference.
Wolff is an assistant professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas. For his graduate dissertation, he focused on how well faculty and staff working in higher education understand how to retain first-generation college students.
Wolff realized that first-generation students have a unique experience compared to other college students. With existing research already done from the student's perspective, he wanted to see how prepared the university felt when working with those students.
Looking at research and reflecting on his experiences in higher education, Wolff understands that students need to connect with university staff.
"One of the highest predictors of student's success or student retention is if they perceive themselves as having positive interactions with faculty and staff,” Wolff says. “As a faculty member myself, I have to keep in mind that when the students come and talk to me, those interactions are important to making sure that the students feel that they're connected to the university.”
Wolff is finishing his education on the campus he started on. He originally earned his undergraduate degree in elementary education at MSUM in 2000. He was especially excited to present at the conference because it compared to his presentation he did as a senior.
"You can widen your perspective about what other people are sharing,” Wolff says. "Whether it's in your field or not, there's a lot of parallels. It gives you the opportunity to say what you've done. The research is worth sharing with other people.”
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