Improving the Cultural Transition to UC Santa Cruz for First-Year, First-Generation Students

For first-generation college students, the transition to college often means learning a new cultural system including new norms, behaviors, and ideas. While exciting and new, this cultural transition can also bring about challenge, particularly as students navigate and manage demanding university and home responsibilities. To address the cultural transition to college, 18 volunteers from the Culture and Achievement Collaborative (the Collab) facilitated a 2-hour interactive conversation with 19 first-year, first-generation college students on Saturday, June 3, 2017. The conversation included reflection, discussion, activities, and story sharing centered around the challenges and strengths of being a first-generation college student.

The goals of the community conversation were to:

1. Review research and language on the cultural transition to college,

2. Create a supportive community to reflect on shared experiences,

3. Provide an introduction to campus resources,

4. Solicit direct feedback on best practices for supporting first-generation students.

With funding, the Collab created an educational tool for the conversation, a Senior First-Gen Video, that highlights stories and advice from senior first-generation students at UC Santa Cruz. After the conversation, students completed evaluation forms and wrote reflections to faculty, staff, and their families on what they want them to know about their transition and college experiences. Read more about what UC Santa Cruz students had to say about their experiences: For more information about the project, contact the project lead, Dr. Rebecca Covarrubias, at

Building on the Cultural Transitions project, other university initiatives supporting first-generation students on campus were funded. For example, in Spring 2017, project funding was expanded to include the launch of a First-Gen Faculty Visibility Campaign. As part of a UC systemwide effort, faculty wore #FirstGenCollegeGrad T-shirts and buttons during the last week of classes for Student Achievement Week.

Because of increased interest, the campaign was expanded to university staff and graduate students who identify as first-gen or first-gen student supporters and additional T-shirts and #FirstGenSupport buttons were purchased. Over 630 individuals signed up to join the campaign. Faculty, staff, and graduate students were encouraged to show support for the entering class of first-gen students by wearing T-shirts and buttons during Welcome Week, the week before the start of classes. They were also invited to show their support at the First-Gen Rally on September 26, 2017 at the Fall Fest, a campus event that hosts thousands of entering and current students.

The Cultural Transitions Project and these related first-generation initiatives are part of a larger goal to inform strategies and programs on campus that empower, support, and connect our UC Santa Cruz first-generation community. Currently, program planning is underway to hold a student forum and conduct training with faculty and staff in winter and spring of 2018.

To participate or join the conversation, please contact us via email at

Lead Contact Name: Rebecca Covarrubias
Lead Contact Email:
Theme: Easing the Transition to College