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Putting First Gen Students First

By Alisha Rose Henderson, Caitlin Fisher, and Melvyn Harding, University of Memphis

California State University L.A. (Cal State) has a unique student population of 28,000 students many of which are first generation college students and the first in their family to pursue professional careers. The goal of the project is to give students the opportunity to use real skills that would focus on both a personal and professional skills gap. This project will provide students with role models and meaningful professional experiences to develop the 21st Century Skills that have not been previously addressed.

The Design

The Crenshaw Corridor is a culturally rich community located adjacent to the university. This community also has the challenge of being under-served, under-resourced, and often not as supported by nonprofit organizations. The Crenshaw Corridor also faces economic and other challenges which made the university be intentional in partnering with a well-established organization in this area to facilitate on-going partnerships with community leaders and other non-profits.

Students will be enrolled in a service-learning marketing course. They will then work with the mental health nonprofit serving the community by administering a needs assessment. This partnership hopes to help the community increase engagement and find value in mental health services for a community that has traditionally not used those services. Students will use information gathered from the needs assessment to do additional work within the community.

Community Changes

There have not been any noted university changes. Cal State is still in the initial stages with the needs assessment, but there is a positive forward look. The partner organization is well-respected, and they are hopeful of longevity and creating a strong relationship.

Success, Success! Indicators of Project Success

Initially, Cal State was planning a showcase to the College of Business and Economics, faculty, other students towards the end of the project. This would be a success indicator from a qualitative perspective by being able to see students engaging and presenting at the completion of the project.

In regard to data tracking, Cal State has a belief that high impact practices such as service learning and civic engagement leads to higher persistence rates for its unique campus. With a population of 28,000 students who are majority commuter, students can feel disconnected; anecdotally there is an understanding that students who feel engaged have a higher rate of persistence. With this project, they are hoping to track the impact of students being engaged in this type of a project.

Advice for Adaptation:

It was first noted that time is of the essence for implementation and sound results. For sustainability- the model is sound and can be used by other faculty partners who choose to take it on as long as there is a strong partnership in place. This initiative could be taken on by any university. If a university is looking to implement this project having the focus of the community of service is essential. Additionally, take the time to research and gain knowledge of the community, its needs, the demographics and challenges. Last, build a true partnership between the community, organization, and university.

Initial Support

The President’s Office had initial interest for the COG project. This push from upper-level administration garnered support from the College of Business and Economics’ Dean and Associate Dean. This college was specifically chosen due to the emphasis on 21st Century skills and how it could be integrated.


The most noted change would be faculty integration with the process. As with any university and implementation, allowing for schedules to sync can be difficult. In reflecting identifying more ways to engage faculty to have more of a presence during the project could be more impactful.


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