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Deputy Secretary of Education James E. Cole, Jr. visits Loyola University New Orleans

Loyola press release - July 14, 2016

U.S. Department of Education official meets with first-generation students in roundtable discussion.

Deputy Secretary of Education James E. Cole, Jr. visited Loyola University New Orleans this morning to sit down with a group of first-generation students, faculty and staff mentors, peer mentors and several members of the Loyola University administration. Cole, who is also the first in his family to have graduated from college, met with students representing First in the PACK, a newly launched program for first-generation students at Loyola New Orleans.

“We work day in and day out on these very issues, and it is so important for us to get out and hear what’s working,” said Deputy Secretary Cole, who works in the U.S. Department of Education. Cole also quoted First Lady Michelle Obama: “It’s so important that our youth enter college, but it’s even more important that they graduate.”

Studies show that the first member of a family to attend college faces a unique set of trials, and Loyola New Orleans’ First in the PACK program is a mentoring program and support system designed to help first-year, first-generation students navigate challenges from day one all the way through to graduation. Housed in the university’s newly launched Student Success Center, First in the PACK is a campus-wide network of faculty, staff and students who create a community of support as they coach first-year students through adjustment challenges and teach them how to navigate Loyola’s resources as they transition from high school to college.

“Our first-generation students sometimes face additional challenges, and to help, we have created a safety net. We wanted to provide first-year, first-generation students a go-to resource, someone who can help answer questions about Loyola, help to develop life skills, plan for post-college career goals, provide encouragement and serve as a guide,’” said Liz Rainey, director of retention and student success. “Our goal is to see these wonderful students not only succeed at Loyola, but thrive.”

Each year, nearly one-third of Loyola’s first-year students identify as the first in their families to attend college. In the fall of 2012, staff members across campus came together to envision and implement a structured support network and resources for students in need of positive mentoring relationships. Given the number of first-generation students at Loyola and the national persistence concerns for these students, the program identified its target population. First in the Pack launched in the spring of 2013 as a hybrid mentoring program. Each first-year, first generation student was paired with both a faculty or staff member, as well as with a peer mentor. Participation in the program is voluntary, yet encouraged.

In a one-hour roundtable discussion, Deputy Secretary Cole had the opportunity to converse with First in the PACK members, who voiced both praises and concerns regarding their experiences to date in higher education. Students, faculty and staff discussed the necessity of a mentorship program for first-generation college students and voiced their how their own personal stories have been impacted by this initiative.

As they talked, the group addressed a variety of issues that may impact first-generation families, including: cultural and language barriers, perceived isolation, educational gaps, and financial challenges. At the same time, they urged continued support from Washington.

“First in the PACK has been so transformative to me,” said senior psychology major Nydia Araya, “so much so that I have decided to get a Masters in Higher Education Administration because of how much all of these people have impacted me.”

Led in conjunction with Loyola’s Offices of Student Affairs and Academic Affairs, First in the PACK is currently accepting applications from first-year students in the Class of 2020 to participate in the program this year. The deadline to apply is July 22.