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The F.I.R.S.T. Step

First-Generation Transfer Students Create Program to Help Peers

By Alex Stoller


Illustration by Kelsey Marotta

Illustration by Kelsey Marotta

Anthony Rasoamiaramanana faced all the challenges of an incoming Terp: navigating an unfamiliar campus, adjusting to living with strangers and learning how to succeed in rigorous new classes. But as the first in his family, from Madigascar, to attend college, he had even more struggles and pressures.

Rasoamiaramanana ’16, a native French speaker who graduated from Montgomery College, says being part of the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program helped with that transition. It nurtures transfer students with business ideas, and he and fellow Hillman student Ryan Felix ’17 noticed that their peers in the program seemed better off than other first-generation transfer students at Maryland.

Felix and Rasoamiaramanana wanted to provide the same guidance and support to them, so they and other Hillman students this semester started creating Terps F.I.R.S.T, for Fulfillment, Intelligence, Responsibility, Support and Tact.

Starting this fall, the Terps F.I.R.S.T. team hopes to encourage its peers to learn to better themselves and others, take accountability, mentor one another and strive for professionalism.

“We saw that there was this need for a first-generation community of people who could be there for other first-generation transfer students and also provide them with necessary information like how to get scholarships, financial aid, internships,” says Felix. “We started to structure the program and realized that the need was a lot larger than we anticipated.”

There were 2,201 transfer students enrolled at Maryland last fall; 683 of them were first-generation students, according to the Registrar’s Office. The program revolves around an active website with information on services across campus. Starting in the fall, students who sign on to participate in Terps F.I.R.S.T will receive a mentor in their major who is also a first-generation college student.

Gül Branco, director of Hillman Entrepreneurs, says her program can’t mentor every first-generation transfer student at UMD. But with Terps F.I.R.S.T, many can benefit. “For many of them, it’s a confidence issue,” says Branco. “They need someone to truly believe in them.”

Branco says their parents, who didn’t go to college, may discourage their children from pursing higher education and instead urge them to go straight to work, like they did. “The students don’t realize that they have the potential to get a scholarship or an internship,” she says.

Those who do come to college are less likely to go to an authority figures for help, or attend faculty members’ office hours or visit the Career Center, says Hillman Program Coordinator Nancy Stalowski. “By providing this service, our students are making sure they get that information that otherwise they might not be seeking out,” she says. “The fact that this program is run by students that they would be comfortable reaching out to is going to be very beneficial.”Felix Quote

The program is already benefitting the five Hillman students running it. Branco says she has watched them grow as leaders and innovators as they develop Terps F.I.R.S.T.

Felix isn’t focused on improving his own leadership abilities. Rather, his goal is to increase the retention rate of first-generation UMD students, which has hovered at 87 percent in the past nine years, compared to 90 percent in the rest of the student population, according to the Registrar’s Office.

“The end goal is being able to help people, to see generally happier and more integrated first-generation transfer students here,” says Felix.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.