News And Events

Expanded Support For First-Generation Students

Expanded Support for First-Generation Students

New RISD First-Generation to College Pre-Orientation Program will offer a multifaceted experience for incoming students.​

the words "Good Work" painted down the length of a foot bridge in the middle of RISD's downtown Providence campus

This summer RISD will pilot a new, multifaceted, two-week on-campus experience designed to support undergraduate students whose parents did not attend or complete college. Supported through gifts to the Presidential Initiatives Fund, the RISD First-Generation to College Pre-Orientation Program will further the institution’s Social Equity & Inclusion initiative, which is dedicated not only to expanding access to RISD, but also to providing ongoing support to help students succeed at RISD.

Students going up steps in Frazier terrace

“Research shows that first-generation students drop out of college or have less satisfactory college experiences at a significantly higher rate than their peers,” says President Rosanne Somerson. “Our goal with the RISD First-Generation to College Pre-Orientation Program is to develop the holistic and inclusive advising, support and pedagogical systems essential to the success and well-being of students who may benefit from additional programmatic support.”

“Our goal... is to develop the holistic and inclusive advising, support and pedagogical systems essential to the success and well-being of [first-generation] students.

President Rosanne Somerson

While on campus for the two-week summer pre-orientation, students will spend time expanding their artistic and academic skills, gaining a deeper understanding of RISD’s critique-centered academic approach and engaging in hands-on research and writing practice. They will also receive financial literacy instruction and an introduction to on-campus resources that support health and wellness. Additionally, they will explore their social identities and build community with peers, students, faculty and staff. Participants will receive free on-campus housing and meals for the pre-orientation as well as a stipend.

Aerial view of river along RISD campus

“This will be an intensive two weeks,” says Intercultural Student Engagement Director Ulli K. Ryder, “but until now students who were entirely new to this type of living and learning environment were expected to pick up on the many nuances of higher education and RISD while at the same time shouldering heavy course loads as well as on- and off-campus jobs. The RISD First-Generation to College Pre-Orientation Program is intended to make the transition to RISD smoother.”

“Until now students new to this type of environment were expected to pick up on the many nuances of higher education while shouldering [classes and jobs].”

ISE Director Ulli K. Ryder

Ryder and Dean of Experimental and Foundation Studies Joanne Stryker note that first-generation students frequently arrive at college without the requisite “roadmap,” leading to emotional challenges such as a sense of not belonging. And that feeling is further exacerbated for many students when they do not see themselves or their experiences reflected in the campus community and/or curriculum, an issue that RISD academic leaders are also working to change.

Large, brightly colored hand-made "welcome to RISD" sign

“The first-year curriculum at RISD is challenging for everyone,” Stryker says, “even for students who started taking private art classes when they were very young. We hope to improve the experience of first-generation college students by acknowledging and engaging the distinct cultural backgrounds, experiences and forms of knowledge they bring to the community.”

“We hope to improve the experience of first-generation students by acknowledging and engaging the distinct cultural backgrounds, experiences and forms of knowledge they bring to the community.”

Dean of EFS Joanne Stryker

Knowing that marginalized students are often reluctant to take advantage of existing support systems or otherwise advocate for themselves, the program leads are adopting proven strategies for anticipating their needs. They are also drawing on the input, experience and expertise of first-generation faculty and staff at RISD.

“The RISD First-Generation to College Pre-Orientation Program is intended to become an integral part of our broad social equity and inclusion commitment,” says Somerson, “and an essential component for success within the overall SEI program for a truly diverse and empowered community.”

photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

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