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Illinois State embraces families new to higher education

The admissions process, financial aid applications, and adjustment to campus life can be intimidating for new students. Many persevere because they are fortunate to have the guidance of family members who have gone through such experiences. For first-generation college students without that knowledge base, completing the most basic steps to pursue a degree can seem overwhelming.

Assistant Director of Admissions Lindsay Vahl ’06, M.S. ’09, knows the challenges, as she was once in the same position. She consequently takes a special interest in helping first-generation students navigate the admissions process and go on to be successful Illinois State students.

“I was a first-generation college student myself. I love speaking to prospective students and relating my own experiences,” she said. “I had a lot of the same questions they have.”

Vahl coordinates programs for first-generation students and those from underrepresented groups. You Can Do ISU, for example, brings students from the Chicago, St. Louis, and surrounding areas to campus to familiarize them with college life. Students are introduced to the college application process and gain an overview of financial aid options available. A campus tour is offered and information shared about how high school GPAs and extracurricular activities factor into the admissions process.

The passion Vahl has in her recruitment work carries over into seeing students succeed once the semester begins. Beyond her job in Admissions, she is involved in numerous activities the University provides to empower students and develop their leadership skills.

“My job is to help bring students to campus, but I feel it’s really important to stay involved and help them develop while they are here,” said Vahl, who goes above and beyond in her efforts to make sure students are succeeding.

While co-teaching a Success 101 seminar one semester, she noticed that one of her students had stopped coming to class. Instead of simply marking her absent, Vahl decided to pay the young woman a visit and find out how she was doing.

“I took one of the Julia N. Visor Academic Center staff members with me and went to her room to ask her why she wasn’t in class,” Vahl said. “I knew she was a first-generation student, and I wanted to talk to her about all the options available for getting help. After that discussion and additional meetings and conversations with University College staff members, she started coming

to class again. She even sent me a card to thank me for my help.”

Such moments are the norm on the ISU campus, and reinforce to students that they are a valued Redbird. The inevitable sense of belonging is especially significant to first-generation students as they blaze their family’s collegiate trail.

 

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