The plight of first-generation students has long been on the radar of Texas A&M administrators.
Dr. Carol Fierke, former provost and executive vice president, launched the Student Success Initiative in 2018 to increase the university’s first-year retention rate and its four- and six-year graduation rates. The effort also aims to decrease achievement disparities in the student body, including the gap between first-generation students and those whose parents attended college.
With these goals in mind, Texas A&M opened the doors in 2019 to its Office for Student Success (OSS). Charged with “supporting initiatives focused on student persistence, achievement and timely graduation,” the OSS devotes considerable attention to the needs of Texas A&M’s first-generation college students.
Among the first to financially support the new OSS are Stephanie ’93 and Todd Routh ’86 of Austin. Through a $2.6 million commitment to the Texas A&M Foundation, the couple is bolstering the mission of the newly renamed Routh First-Generation Center, housed within the OSS. The center hosts the Gen1 Learning Community, provides cohesive oversight of the many first-generation endeavors on campus, ensures the availability of professional development opportunities, and offers activities to boost community and mentorship.
“Texas A&M not only teaches academics but also life skills,” Stephanie said. “First-generation students have drive and ambition. They can take what they learn back to their families, communities and careers, and share their education.”
Castillo added that supporting this particular group is ultimately a path to bettering the entire university.
“If we do a good job of helping our first-generation students, we help the campus achieve overall student success,” he said, “and the different perspectives of first-generation students will improve the education of all students.”