What does it mean to be a first-generation college student? That’s a concept that the University Libraries’ Flora and Stuart Mason Undergraduate Peer Research Coaches are exploring in a new podcast series launching in honor of First-Generation Celebration Week at UNLV.
“Podcasts are a great tool to share opinions and stories and have open conversations on important topics because they are very accessible. We decided to create a podcast dedicated to first-gens to share our perspective on how it has affected or enhanced our college and career experiences,” said peer coach Evelyn Rodriguez, a junior business major at UNLV.
The genesis for the podcast came from a research project the peer coaches recently completed and presented investigating the first-generation college experience at UNLV. The peer coaches were able to present their findings at two national conferences in 2019 with the guidance of Rosan Mitola, interim head of educational initiatives, and Chelsea Heinbach, teaching and learning Librarian.
“In our research project, we learned that despite one-third of the student population at UNLV being first-gen, first-gen students still feel isolated,” said peer coach Rebekah D’Amato, a senior public health major. “With the increased isolation of the current pandemic, we wanted to engage with the community that we not only care deeply about but are also all a part of; our podcast is a great way for us to connect with our fellow first-gens from home.”
The first three episodes of the “New Gen Podcast” are available for streaming on the podcast website. Episode topics include what it means to be a first-generation college student, the peer coaches’ research project, and how being first-generation is a superpower.
The episode titled “First Gen 'Not Your Deficit' Research” is a favorite of David Ramos-Candelas, an alumnus of the peer coach program and May 2020 graduate with a B.S. in Hospitality Management.
"We wanted to use this episode as an opportunity to inform listeners on the deficit mindset and use our research to shift the focus onto the unique strengths that first-gens bring to the university,” he said. “The content of this episode is very powerful and can be a great tool for first-gens or anyone who can potentially impact the lived experiences of a first-gen.”
For peer coach Vinicius Passos, a junior in the Healthcare Administration major, the superpower episode was the most impactful, and he hopes students are able to walk away with a better understanding of their own strengths.
“We are all superheroes. The events that we have participated in [throughout] our lives have trained us to excel when it is our turn to display our skills. We discover what strengths we possess, personally, and how we can use those strengths to help others,” he said.
Students As Teachers for Each Other
Named for Libraries Advisory Board member Flora Mason and her late husband, Stuart, the Undergraduate Peer Research Coach program was created to enhance library instruction and student learning through peer-to-peer mentorship while offering first-generation UNLV students a one-of-a-kind college experience.
“We act as ambassadors for the University Libraries, conducting customized tours of Lied Library with a user-centered mindset, and represent the Libraries at campus events,” said Passos. “We also teach and advise English Composition students on credible research methods and source evaluation using peer-assisted learning techniques. Truly, our goal is to support students.”
UNLV librarians offer a variety of instruction and research consultation services for students. The peer coach program enhances those services by using peer-to-peer learning to help students find and engage with Libraries resources.
“Sometimes approaching a peer is more accessible and less intimidating than approaching faculty. I think the library has been able to reach more students because they put students at the forefront of interactions,” said peer coach Bibiana Lopez, a senior psychology and English major.
These peer interactions can be less intimidating as students learn how to develop research questions and think critically while sharpening information literacy skills that will serve them beyond their college years.
“Representation matters, so for students to see us in library sessions as co-teachers, it demonstrates that research literacy is attainable and that they are also capable of harnessing those skills,” said Rodriguez.
Ultimately, the peer coaches hope that other first-generation college students listening to the podcast will find something that resonates with them and feel connected with others who have some similar lived experiences.
“In a world surrounded by polarization and conflict, I hope listeners feel important and valued,” Passos said. “Their story as first-generation students or allies is worthy of sharing. Hopefully, our podcast will act as a catalyst for building tremendous confidence within traditionally marginalized communities.”
And ultimately, the peer coaches hope to continue sharing more stories about first-gen college students in future research and in future podcast seasons.
“Everyone’s experience in being first-gen has the potential to be so different and we would love to hear about all of them. My hope is that our podcast increases awareness to those in academia about supporting first-gen students and focusing on their strengths rather than just their struggles, which has been the primary focus historically,” said D’Amato.