The Legacy Scholars program aims to help first-generation students navigate higher ed
by Hasib Hussainzada (’17)
Westminster College is committed to creating a positive social and academic environment for all students. The Legacy Scholars program expands on this by focusing on the needs of first-generation college students. These students are historically underrepresented on college and university campuses.
Already in its second year, the Legacy Scholars program provides first-generation students with cohorts for academic support, scholarship opportunities, faculty and staff mentorship, and professional preparation. “The Legacy Scholars program has been a campus-wide effort,” says Dan Cairo, director of the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center at Westminster and coordinator of the program. “We are working with the Outdoor Education and Leadership program, the Dumke Center for Civic Engagement, and the Career Center to create opportunities for our scholars, such as the Summer Bridge program and the outdoor recreation trip we took last August to southern Utah.
In August 2017, the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center—along with Westminster’s Outdoor Recreation program—took a weekend trip to southern Utah, where Legacy Scholars enjoyed outdoor recreation activities such as river rafting, camping, hiking, and exploring some of Utah’s national monuments.Bringing the program to life was inspired by conversations Dan had with both students and Westminster stakeholders after arriving at the college. Building a robust program that offered support to first-generation students soon became one of his top priorities. “One of the things that I have heard a lot from students is that they missed the first-generation network, where met with other first-generation students,” Dan says. “That got me thinking that it would be a good idea to create a program that provided infrastructure for students to build a community and succeed together.”
Rebuilding the first-generation network prompted Dan to evaluate its former framework and determine what changes could be made to create a welcoming place for first-generation students. Dan determined that under the umbrella of inclusion, programs supporting academics and retention could be housed in a place like the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center to enable students to create a place at Westminster that they could call home.
In addition to providing a place to grow, the Legacy Scholars program offers students financial support. Each semester, students within the cohort receive a $500 stipend to cover their book expenses. “I was given $500 for books and school supplies per semester before I knew anything else about the cohort,” says Alexandria Elmen (’20), a pre-nursing student who is one of 22 students currently in the Legacy Scholars cohort. “That is a lot of money that is extremely useful.”
While the program offers financial support in the form of book stipends, the collaborative nature of the program provides opportunity for students to strengthen and support one another. “The biggest difference I have noticed since joining the Legacy Scholars program is that I’m becoming more and more confident in my ability to graduate,” says program participant Lasana Hasan Trawally (’20).
The current cohort is at capacity, but Dan would like to increase the number of students served by the program. In addition to hoping to have more students in next year’s cohort, Dan says the Student Diversity and Inclusion Center—with the support of its generous stakeholders—is working to create legacy-like opportunities where students of all backgrounds can join together to create a positive environment on Westminster’s campus and ensure that they complete their academic degrees.
“I want students to come to Westminster College because they are strengthened by a holistic support system—faculty, staff, mentors, friends, and books—that helps guarantee that they will graduate in four years,” Dan says.
About the Westminster Review
The Westminster Review is Westminster University’s bi-annual alumni magazine that is distributed to alumni and community members. Each issue aims to keep alumni updated on campus current events and highlights the accomplishments of current students, professors, and Westminster alum.