LINDSEY BRAY: Hello, Cornell families. We are so excited to have you here with us today. My name is Lindsey Bray. I'm the Director of Parent and Family Programs. My office serves as a central resource for Cornell parents and families. We offer a variety of events and services, including our brand new Cornell Family Conversation series.
Thank you so much for joining us live or watching the recording at a later date. If you have questions during the session, please feel free to use the Q&A function to submit those. We will do our best to answer all of them during our time. We will also be including links in the chat for resources mentioned. If you are watching this later, they will also be included in the description.
So again, welcome. Today's topic for our Cornell Family Conversation is supporting your first-generation students. We'll discuss the programs and services offered for our first-generation and low-income students. The support is intended to promote identity exploration, community advocacy, and empowerment of all of our students to help them succeed and thrive.
So today with us we have Dannemart Pierre, the Peggy-- the Associate Dean for Student Empowerment and Director of First Generation and Low Income Student Support. She joined Cornell last year and has worked in higher education for nearly 15 years serving in directorship roles for multicultural student programs, first-year and transfer support mentoring, and academic student advising.
Her vision for just and equitable higher education experience stems from her own background as a first-generation low-income college student who immigrated to the United States from Haiti. So thank you so much for joining us.
DANNEMART PIERRE: Thank you for having me. Thank you and welcome, Cornell families.
LINDSEY BRAY: So to get it started, could you provide us a little bit of an overview of your office and your role?
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yes, of course. So my official title is of Peggy J. Koenig '78 Associate Dean of Students for Student Empowerment, and I oversee a number of different areas. So we empower students through our first-generation and/or low-income student supports, and we also empower students through the support that we provide for our undocumented and DACA status students.
That includes everything from peer mentoring to regularly scheduled community dinners to supporting student-led organizations, and then also running programs and events throughout campus.
LINDSEY BRAY: Fantastic. So before we get into it a little bit, to clarify, the services and programming offered within your office, only for first-generation students?
DANNEMART PIERRE: So while we specifically focus on first-generation students, we don't exclude students from attending our programs. First-gen is sometimes nuanced-- well, it is nuanced.
For example, our students who are first-generation college students in the United States, even though their families from abroad do hold college degrees, it's still a new experience for them. So while they are technically not first-gen, they still benefit from attending our programs and participating, and we, of course, welcome them.
LINDSEY BRAY: So within your office, what are some of the workshops that are offered for students? And do these only cover resources on campus or are these also within the community as well?
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yeah. We have-- so I've got workshops, programs, and events. I try to keep them into three separate buckets. Would you want me to just focus more on the workshops or do you want me to maybe touch on each topic?
LINDSEY BRAY: I think our parents would love to know a little bit about all of them.
DANNEMART PIERRE: OK, perfect. Yeah. So I oversee FGSU, for example, which is our student-led student organization, and they run lots of programs on campus to build community for first-gen students. I also oversee the Dream Team, and they run programs on campus to support our students with undocumented or DACA status. So those are more programs, but they're student-led and student-- or student-organized.
We also run events. For example, our First-Generation Celebration Week, which happened in November, and we are currently in the early stages of planning our first-generation graduation event. And we partner with liaisons across campus that work with first-generation students.
And these are celebratory events to bring awareness to the first-gen student experience, to celebrate their accomplishments, to tell them, we see you, we value you, and to give them the space to interact with each other and faculty and staff who also identify as first-gen.
And then we have the workshops. And the workshops are more educational. So that can be anything from join us for the Cornell Food Pantry. We'll show you how to navigate the food pantry, how to sign up. What meal prep cards are. So how do you prep a quick meal? Those kinds of things.
Are you planning to move off campus? Well, here are some things you really need to consider. So we have a housing workshop how to sign a lease, how to read a lease property to make sure that you're not going to get swindled, and how to choose a roommate.
So we do workshops leading on that. We have one coming up. It was scheduled for this week, but we had a snow day. But we'll be hosting it next week, and it's Taxes 101. So how to file your taxes.
As a first time doing it by yourself as a college student. And we have quite a few students who signed up for that. We got some faculty members that are going to be leading that from Cornell Law. Yeah, so various different types of programming, workshops, as well as events.
Those are really wonderful of our students as they're learning that adult thing along the way. And I know our students really enjoyed their snow day this week and that extra bonus off. So within your office as well, you mentioned some of the workshops that you do that-- are there other ways that your office is helping students to address basic needs? You mentioned the food pantry as well.
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yes, yes. So I really believe that it's important to empower students and give them the agency so that they can rightsize their priorities, and we do that by providing them with the resources because we really want them to make informed decisions.
So part of empowering students, it looks like encouraging conversations. The Dean of Students, myself, and the Senior Associate Dean of Students, we meet with a coalition of students on a monthly basis to discuss basic needs, issues, or concerns that have come up that they have identified and that they think-- and what ways they think the institution can mitigate some of that or alleviate some of that.
So we meet with these students regularly, and we've been meeting with them since I started in July. So that's one way to empower students and to help them be informed and make the right decisions.
The second way we do that is through the Basic Needs Workshop series. I mentioned some of them already, but this is a series of workshops that we led in the fall as well as the spring, and we'll continue to lead, and then cover a variety of topics. For example, how to fill out your FAFSA, how to apply for SNAP benefits if you do qualify. How to get access to the food pantry.
Again, living off campus, what are some of the decisions that you need to think about? How to budget for that before you make that kind of decision. So a variety of workshops along various different needs, including time management. We had a time management one that was super successful.
Like how to manage your time because if you might have to work and go to classes, what are some of the tools and tips that you might need in order to help you study more effectively and manage your time and still be successful as a college student? Because that's the number one priority here.
And then empowering, also looks like removing possible barriers, and helping students learn how the process of doing that on their own. So for example, we have the Swipe Out Hunger Program, and that program is a program where students get to donate one of their meal swipes, and that goes into a pot. And then when students are falling short or maybe their particular meal plan doesn't cover enough, it doesn't give them enough meals, then they can apply for Swipe Out Hunger, and then that is a supplemental program. That helps sustain them until they get a more secure option for food.
So for example, that option being the food pantry. The Cornell Food Pantry is stocked weekly. Thousands and thousands of pounds of staple items are stocked at the food pantry. In addition-- and not just food, there's also hygiene supplies and resources. And all students need to do is sign up, which is completely free for students to use.
But until they can navigate that or figure that out on their own, we do have the Swipe Out Hunger that helps them still be able to get meals provided for them. So that's one way.
The Access Fund is another way. Just want to put a shameless plug for Giving Day. Today is Giving Day. This is a great way to support the Access Fund. And the Access Fund allows us to give students who are eligible a certain amount of funds per year to cover basic products.
So that includes hygiene products, if they need to buy a winter coat or winter boots, if they need a bus pass, we cover the bus pass. And it also includes transformative experiences. So for example, if a student needs to go to a conference but they don't have the funds to afford that, the Access Fund can help them pay for that. If they've had an emergency at home, a close family member has passed away and they need to fly home, the Access Fund will help pay for that as well.
So various different ways that Access Fund helps students by eliminating some of these financial barriers. And we also have CU Impact Fellowship. I mentioned earlier that I also oversee services for our students with undocumented and DACA status. So students with undocumented status specifically are not able to participate in paid internship programs because of federal laws. So the CU Impact Fellowship allows us to fund that experience for them.
Yeah, so all of those are just great opportunities and great ways that we get to serve students for their basic needs specifically, but also great opportunities for Giving Day.
LINDSEY BRAY: That is that's a great way for families to help support all of our students on campus. So I would agree, it is a nice timing today is Giving Day for our families who are joining us live and want to give, although always open for those donations as well to these really important funds.
So can you talk a little bit about for families as they're kind of helping their students about how the role that helping students understand these resources and having access to these, how that really supports their education outside of-- within the classroom as well.
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yes. So you mentioned Adulting 101. As a first-generation college student, I really learned through trial and error. So when I was going through school, the term wasn't really even popularized, not until I was earning my master's and I really started to hear the term being used.
So for me, at the time, it was just trying to figure things out and not knowing and learning the hard way or through mistakes, learning through a lot of mistakes and a lot of trial and error. So from my office, I really-- again, I mentioned wanting to empower students and helping them rightsize their priorities.
We don't want to make the decisions for them. We really just want to provide them with the information and the resources and be there with them so they can make the decisions. So asking the right questions. For example, one of our housing-- off-campus housing workshops, one of our attendees sat and went through a whole budgeting worksheet that had been created.
How much money do you think you're going to get? How much do you think you're going to spend on food? How much do you think it's going to cost you to navigate your way to campus every day? What are some of the resources that are going to help cover that? Will you have a roommate, will you not? What happens if the roommate decides to take an internship and has to leave for a semester?
All of these kinds of things to really help a student think through that as they're-- and you might not think that that's part of budgeting, but it is. And help students think through that, and then let them decide on their own, whatever that decision is, I really want to just help them be educated and be critical thinkers in their decision-making.
And I think that translates into the classroom because then if you were having a roommate situation, now you know how to ask questions, and you know things to think about and things to look for before you jump to conclusions or make a decision. I really hope that we empower them to be able to have conversations with faculty.
For example, we had lunch-and-learn with faculty and staff that are first-- that identify as first-gen, and that just really helps the students see, hey, you're not alone. There are faculty and staff that have gone through this and they are open to have that conversation and to share this identity with you, and so you don't have to feel like, oh, I can't talk to them or I don't know or I should know. No, there's other people that didn't know either and we're here to support you.
LINDSEY BRAY: Oh, that's so important for our students to get that and understand that as well. So can you-- you mentioned some of the ways that students have gotten involved with your office. You mentioned some student groups. So what are those ways that students can get more involved with those organizations that come out of your office?
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yeah. So for First-Generation Student Union, which is FGSU, students can find out about it through Campus Group-- so all of our student orgs are on Campus Group, as well as Dream Team is also on Campus Group, and you can just join, attend their general body meetings, and get to know them.
FGSU has really worked hard to build a very strong community for first-generation students. So they-- and they do events as well-- like fun events. For example, they went apple-picking last fall. But this semester, they're starting a professional speaker series where they're inviting first-gen alum to speak on different topics.
So they do a variety of events, but I really recommend students get involved with FGSU as a way to have community, to make friends who are also first-gen, and who are just really involved in this work. And I work with FGSU leadership to support them and also to advise them.
The same thing with Dream Team. I highly recommend, if you are a student with undocumented or DACA status, that you become involved through Dream Team that way.
But for our undocumented students, we also have the Bridge Mentoring Program, which is a program where graduate mentors-- mentor undergraduate students with undocumented and/or DACA status. And this just really gives them the opportunity to meet with someone privately on a one-on-one that really helps them navigate life as an undocumented student or student with DACA status.
So that mentoring program-- and you can find out the resources on our website, on how to get involved with either of those programs. And we also host [? HOLD. ?] I organize the Kessler Peer Mentor Scholar. Like Kessler is a separate group. These are first-generation students that have received a scholarship, and as part of that, they also have peer mentors.
And their mentors are just either third, fourth, or sometimes even second-year students that are just mentoring them as first-generation students. Those are all ways that students can get involved.
I'm happy to announce, we are working on creating a Peer Navigator Program, which would just generally sit in my office as opposed to being student-led orgs that are outside, that I advise and support. Our peer navigators will be paid positions in my office, and will help with us with a number of functions.
So from basic needs to first-gen to undocumented and DACA. All the ways that my office helps and all of the students that might walk in through our office to be able to equip students to help guide and help other students navigate. But that is coming. That's not set yet.
LINDSEY BRAY: Well, that's great. We can't wait till that program is in place for our students as they have that peer-to-peer interaction that can often help sometimes with really taking advantage of those resources. You mentioned a little bit about the community. Can you tell families a little bit about how getting involved has really helped students that you've worked with to find community on campus and find their place?
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yeah. So I mentioned before about just the nuances of being a first-generation student. And then I really try not to conflate the two even though they are correlated. So there's a high correlation between being first-gen and also coming from a limited-income household, but they are not synonymous. So I really try to not conflate the two.
But first generation students, particularly on a Ivy college campus-- any college campus, but particularly on a Ivy college campus, it's easy to start to think, maybe I don't belong. Imposter syndrome is so real. And it's really easy to start to question yourself and doubt and to wonder if you can cut it, if you've got what it takes to make it.
And so having that community of students that are not just going through it with you, but have gone through it and are succeeding and understand all of the ways that you doubt and question yourself. I remember, for example, students not fully understanding, what does it mean by office hours? But being afraid to ask because everybody else seems to know what that means, but I don't know what that means. And so there's something wrong with me because I don't know?
No, no. There's such hidden curriculum in higher education-- in any institution, in any organization, really, there's always some hidden language. In the business world, we call jargon. In higher education, we just call it hidden curriculum.
So having that community helps students to be able to navigate some of that hidden curriculum and unveil it and fully understand it. For example, we took a group of students-- we're taking a group of students later this semester camping because they've never really been and they think, oh, that's interesting, we'd like to try it.
I've been camping more than I care to ever, but we're taking them just to expose them to that opportunity, to say, hey, to just give them an opportunity to try it. You might not like it, you might hate it, but we're taking them and they're going together and they're all having this experience of awkwardness together, which makes it fun. But yeah, so having that community just eases the transition.
LINDSEY BRAY: I'm sure our students are going to love going camping. It's such a beautiful place and the area is gotta be ideal for that. So I'm super excited for that, and that's fantastic the way our students are being able to connect with others and find that community within that.
So you mentioned a little bit about working with other offices to provide workshops and services and those resources. Can you tell families a little bit about how you go about helping students connect with other offices? Whether that's within our own division or outside of the whole campus.
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yes. We have so many wonderful partnerships with different offices. So I mentioned our Basic Needs Workshop series. So that's I didn't lead those. I partnered with people from across campus and Tompkins County to lead them. So we had representatives from Tompkins County came in-- come, actually, I should say, and just faithfully come and lead our SNAP workshop for us.
I mentioned the Cornell faculty from the Cornell School of Law, particularly tax law that are leading the tax one-on-one workshops for us. For our students with undocumented status, we partnered with Cornell Law and they run an immigration clinic and help students-- answer students' questions when things come up.
But we also-- I just find this so lovely that Cornell does this, but we do have a first-gen liaison in multiple different places. So for example, we have a liaison in Career Services, and they lead workshops particularly geared towards being a first-gen student and going to be a first x, y, and z.
Like this is the first step in your first-generation experience. Once you graduate, once your students graduate college, they're going to be the first assistant dean, first director from your family, first doctor first-- it's just going to be consistent. And so we have Career Services that help them navigate that, and then partners them with mentors that have also been first.
We partner with the President's Council of Cornell Women, which is an alumni group, and they do mentorship as well for our first-generation students. Counseling Services. We partner with Counseling Services and we have a liaison that is for first-generation students, particularly who understand some of the nuances of being a first-generation student and can speak to some of that. And counseling is offered for our students who would like it, and we do have a liaison in that office as well.
So multiple liaisons from across campus, but also just partnering with different academic-- representatives within the academic sector. So for example, I mentioned First-Gen Celebration Week as well as the first-gen graduation celebration that we're planning. I'm working with people from across campus, from the School of Business, from CALS, from ILR, from-- and Architecture.
All of these academic programs have different representatives that are passionate about first-generation student experience and support, and they want to partner together to celebrate our students. So we do get to partner from across campus with a lot of students-- I mean a lot of partners across campus as well as off-campus.
LINDSEY BRAY: Can you tell families a little bit more about First Generation Student Week?
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yeah. So actually, it's First Generation Celebration Day. It's the second Tuesday in November. But I decided to go big or go home and I made a whole week out of it. And it was so much fun. It really-- I really enjoyed running it. I enjoyed partnering with so many different people across campus to run it.
But most importantly, I enjoyed the feedback. The feedback was the best for me. So we had one or two events every day led by different departments. So for example, the Hotel School partnered with some other folks and they hosted a faculty-staff-student luncheon where the students just-- it was more of a networking type of luncheon, and people just kind of got to share their experiences. It was very free-flowing. Students got to talk and then--
But we started off with the faculty and staff sharing that they're first-gen and some of their experiences coming up through college. And then it just opened up to the students, and then the students just wouldn't stop talking. They just kept sharing. And then at the end of the time, they were all just telling us how grateful they are that they had the opportunity to just speak, to just share about that experience, and to know that we saw them and we cared and we organized this whole thing for them.
We had our Director of our LGBT Resource Center, as well as our director our Asian American-- Assistant Director of Asian American Center, they partnered together to have a conversation on intersectional identity. And so not just having multiple identities, but when you layer being a first-generation student on top of that, it just really complexifies all of the things that you're feeling and thinking and wondering about yourself.
And that was just such a wonderful conversation. It was small-group conversations with guided discussion. We had an etiquette dinner. Students got to dress up, and one of our representatives from the Career Services, they got to dress up and have a nice dinner at the Statler Hotel. And we went through etiquette. Like how far should you sit from the table? What kind of spoon should you use? What kind of conversations are allowed at the table?
It was very interactive, and that was so lovely to see all the students show up in their suits. And they all dressed up, it was so nice to see that. So all of these different kinds of events happen throughout that week.
LINDSEY BRAY: Those are so fantastic and such a wonderful way to celebrate our students in that way. So thank you for such a great week. I'm sure our families and students are looking forward to it next year. So as we wrap up, can you tell parents some of the ways that would be best to support their students from your perspective while they're at Cornell?
DANNEMART PIERRE: Yeah. So I want to say, I have-- when I first started-- so for the First Generation Celebration Week, the theme was Trailblazers, and I made Trailblazer T-shirts and buttons and everything-- and I meant to wear one today, but I forgot.
And I use that term because as first-generation students, we are charting into-- venturing, rather, into uncharted territory. And this is things that are very unfamiliar to our host communities. We're about to have experiences that are unfamiliar to our host-- our communities.
And I like to give the funny example of my dad has no idea what I do. He thinks I'm a college professor. He tells everybody that I teach at a university and he's so proud of me. I do not. I mean, I teach, I educate, but I am not a professor, but he just does not have the concept of how an institution works and all of the ways behind the scenes that staff help to uphold beyond just being a professor or being a student.
And so I share all that to say that being a trailblazer, being on an uncharted territory, being the first, it can be exhilarating and exciting and scary and overwhelming and incredibly lonely. So what I want to challenge parents is to first ask questions.
When your child, for example, says that they're nervous about an exam or a project that's coming up, our tendency is to go to, you got this. What are you talking about? You're great! You totally got this! No, no. What that unfortunately does is it reinforces the imposter syndrome, because in my head, I don't think I got it, and I think I fooled everybody in the world into thinking I got it. And you telling me that it's like, oh man, I gotta keep up this imposter syndrome.
Instead, I would encourage you to say something like, what's making you nervous? Can you tell me more about what's leading you to feel this way? And just allow them to express have-- the space to express all of the doubts and the anxieties that they might be feeling as a first to try something. So that's step one.
Step two is to sit with that. Once they open up, don't just go towards, oh, you shouldn't feel that way. No. Sit with that. And instead, say something like, you know what? When I did x, y, and z, I felt afraid. I was scared. I didn't know what I was doing. All of those things. And that was super scary and uncomfortable.
So just sit with that and allow it to be what it is, because it is a very valid emotion, and for them to have this space and to know that they can articulate that to you, and you're not going to be like, what is happening? It's going to be super helpful.
And then the third step is to just-- that is the point that you can now stand and affirm. Now you can say, honestly, I don't know what your classes are like, but I do know what it's like to be afraid. I do know what it's like to be scared. I do know what it's like to try something for the first time and think you're going to fail.
And what I want you to know in this moment is that I got your back. You've already made me proud. You've already done the thing. And so being able to continue to have those conversations just really reinforces the, OK, I can do this. I can take another step on this trail. I can do the next semester. I can do the next degree and so on.
My mom-- right now I'm working on my dissertation, and my mom does not really understand the concept of a dissertation, but she just always likes to remind me that she's proud of me. And that means the world. Like she's like, I'm just proud of you. Like, she's not proud of me when I'm done, she's proud of me already. So being done would just be the perk. I hope that helps.
LINDSEY BRAY: That is really truly wonderful advice, I think, for all of our families to really have as their-- talking with their student and supporting them, so thank you so much for sharing that with our families.
So as we-- my last question for you as we officially wrap up is, what would be the three biggest takeaways that you would want a parent or family member listening to you take away from this and from our conversation today?
DANNEMART PIERRE: I would say, one, just know that we are here to support and guide your students through this journey. So if they have questions, if they have concerns, if things are coming up that they are concerned about, you can encourage them to come to our office.
Students tend to want to wait till the last minute, particularly first-generation students, like I can do it, I can do it by myself, I don't need the help. I mean, yes, maybe, but do you have to do it bloodied and beaten up? This is why we're here. We're here to help alleviate some of that and help make that a little bit easier.
So I would encourage you to encourage them to seek out our resources and our services. I would say that's the biggest takeaway. The second, community is so important. So encourage them to find community and to build community. So join FGSU or the Dream Team or apply as a peer navigator when I finally launch that. So yeah. So community is super important.
And then the last thing is, again, like I said, ask. Just ask. Don't take the monosyllabic answers as an answer. Oh, it's fine. Well, tell me what's fine about it. Why is it fine or not? Great. So yeah, ask questions.
LINDSEY BRAY: Oh, well thank you so much for joining us today. That's such a great advice for our families as they help their students navigate and for sharing your expertise with us for our families.
So families, thank you so much for joining us as well. We really appreciate you being here. Just as a reminder, this session has been recorded, and you can always come back to this and get lovely pieces of-- amazing pieces of advice if you need a refresher over the years as well. So you can always come back to it. It will be linked on our Parent and Family Program's website. And then in the next edition of our Parent and Family Connections newsletter.
So if you ever have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me at email@example.com, or visit our website to check out the resources that we have available for you. So our next Cornell Family Conversation will be Education Abroad on April 14 at 12:00 PM Eastern, so we hope you can join us for that one as well. That concludes our time together today. Thank you again for joining us.
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The Cornell Family Conversation Series is hosted by the Cornell University Office of Parent & Family Programs. Our topic is Supporting your First-Generation Student. Dannemart Pierre, Peggy J. Koenig '78 Associate Dean of Students for Student Empowerment, Director of First-Generation & Low-Income Student Support, joined us to discuss the resources available for first-generation students and how families can support their student while at Cornell.
First Generation & Low Income Support site Access Fund Swipe Out Hunger