Generational ties: UVA first-gen students pass down lessons learned

Fourth-year Savannah Page founded The College Scoop to ease the transition between high school and college for incoming first-gen UVA students. PC: Courtesy subject Fourth-year Savannah Page founded The College Scoop to ease the transition between high school and college for incoming first-gen UVA students. PC: Courtesy subject

When Andjelika Milicic began looking at colleges, she felt like a lab rat. Her parents, originally from Serbia and Bosnia, did not go to college, and she was the oldest of her siblings, leaving her with no one to guide her through the application process.

“I did not know what I was doing whatsoever,” says Milicic, who is from Milwaukee. “I watched YouTube videos on how to do everything…All the [help] I had from my guidance counselor was very general.”

Milicic’s struggles as a first-generation, low-income student continued well into her first year at the University of Virginia, and beyond. She not only had to adjust to a new environment, but she had to figure out how to navigate the different facets of college, from courses to internships.

“I didn’t really have a set schedule for everything. I had to figure it out as I went, whereas other people knew what they needed to [do]…based off of what experiences their parents or siblings have had,” she says. “It was difficult to find the right people to contact for all my questions.”

So when Milicic, now a fourth-year, first learned about The College Scoop, she knew she wanted to get involved.

The College Scoop is a new student-led initiative—founded this March—that offers mentorship and resources to incoming first-years during the transition from high school to college, with a specific focus on FGLI students.

Throughout the spring semester, the group connected with more than 200 admitted students over social media, leading around 150 of them to enroll at UVA.

“We wanted to provide them with a sense of understanding about what the UVA community is like—without having to come here and visit,” says founder and president Savannah Page, now a fourth-year.

To reach more of the FGLI community, the group has begun building partnerships with the university administration, as well as student groups like the First Generation/Low Income Partnership and Rise Together.

“We want to provide a place for these students to come to with all of their questions,” says Milicic, vice president of the group. “All of the partnerships we’re forming will help create a strong resource for these students, so we can connect them with people who may specialize in whatever question they have.”

When third-year Alessia Randazzo arrived at UVA, she also felt very lost and out of place—until she found a mentor. Now she hopes to prevent other FGLI students from going through the same struggles she did.

“It was definitely a challenge, just in that I felt like I didn’t belong here. How can I compete with all of these people who have had this help and support from the very start?” says Randazzo, who is also the group’s co-chair of leadership and development.

Randazzo says she hopes to serve as an older sibling for incoming FGLI students. “Yes, you can ask us about the best course to take for a subject [or] the best place to eat on the Corner, but also we are a resource for help, when you’re having difficulties with XYZ.”

The group is also working to expand its mentorship to high schoolers interested in applying to UVA, by reaching out to guidance counselors at local high schools.

In the near future, the group plans to offer other types of services specifically tailored to FGLI students. It is currently applying for over $100,000 in grant funds to create a free textbook library inside Newcomb Hall. Textbooks can be brutally expensive, and the group hopes to ease that burden.

“We’re hoping to be able to purchase anywhere from around 300 to 400 books for students…[mainly] for first-year classes” says Page. “The goal is to have the university incorporate it into their services, and keep it going that way. And negotiate with the bookstore to get a good discount.”

Page says they should be able to purchase at least 20 to 50 textbooks by the spring.

The grant would also go toward expanding accommodation services for low-income students with disabilities, as well as the Next Steps Fund at Student Health, which pays for two sessions with a community therapist outside of CAPS.

Both Milicic and Randazzo hope The College Scoop’s advocacy will ultimately push UVA to make a greater effort to destigmatize the hardships FGLI students face.

“When I was a first year, it was difficult to put that label on yourself as first gen, low income—it just kind of makes you feel other,” says Milicic. “There can be less negative stigma [around] being FGLI just by talking about it more, and making it known that there are these resources to help you and there are other people here like you.”

UVA needs to do a better job of promoting FGLI resources to first years, “so they don’t feel like outliers…and want to transfer out,” adds Randazzo. “Feeling like you don’t fit in at your own university is just a really tragic feeling to experience.”

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