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The Start of First Forward at Drexel University

Updated: Nov 4, 2021

Photo by Leon.

First Forward is a program for first-generation college students at Drexel University. The program started five years ago by three Drexel faculty who are first-generation themselves, Dr. Tasha Gardener, Dr. Lindsey Mathias and Meredith Woo.

Dr. Gardner is the executive director of the Center of Inclusive Education and Scholarship. She attended Drexel and got her Bachelor’s in Management Information Systems and Masters in Higher Education.

“I received my bachelor’s degree from Drexel in 2003. The university has gone through many changes throughout the years and didn’t have a lot of resources available. I think one thing that helped me was being a part of a student organization,” Dr. Gardner says.

As more students who defined as first-generation enrolled into Drexel, Dr. Gardener and her colleagues knew Drexel needed a program on campus to support these students. They spoke with many students from the undergraduate and graduate level, faculty and staff to understand what a program could provide.

Photo by Drexel Communication & Marketing

“From the conversations, students expressed needing help with work-life balance and feeling frustrated that non-first-generation students not quite understanding all the additional layers that first-generation students have, such as working, commuting, and helping at home. Faculty and staff who aren’t first-generation want to get a better understanding of how to support students. By having those conversations, that’s how we built First Forward,” Dr. Gardner says.

First Forward provides resources and events for students who are the first in their families to attend college. Every year, First Forward hosts lunch and learns, mixers and a series of events for National First-Gen Day. Mixers allow students to network with faculty and staff. Lunch and learns are focused on specific topics students would be interested in learning.

“A lunch and learn we hosted include work-life balance where we talk about ways to manage work, home and school. We also worked with the study abroad program and let students know that study abroad is an option. Giving more insights on the different ways they can afford to study abroad,” Dr. Gardner states.

Photo by Wix.

First Forward listens to ideas and feedback from students so they can continue to support students and provide helpful information. If you are a first-generation student at Drexel and didn’t know about this program, feel free to take a look at some of the resources and events posted on Drexel’s website.

Even if you don’t go to Drexel University, many universities have programs for first-gens. I encourage you to ask faculty and staff at your university.

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