Kelley O’Neal Selected For NASPA First-Gen Initiative
Kelley O’Neal, director of the Byrne Student Success Center, is helping to pave the way for future CEHD first-generation students. O’Neal was recently selected by NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education to be on the advisory board for its new Center for First-generation Student Success.
The advisory board is composed of 15 higher education professionals who work closely with first-generation students on campus nationwide. One goal of the NASPA initiative is to give higher education leaders the tools to further meet the unique needs of these students.
As director of the Byrne Student Success Center, O’Neal works with many first-generation students. O’Neal, being a first-generation college student himself helps him know firsthand the challenges these students often face. O’Neal is using his new appointment and the Byrne Center to bridge those gaps and further help these students.
“The hope is that the advocacy group garners dynamic conversation and idea generation about the work that is being undertaken to advance first-generation student success,” O’Neal said. “Being a part of the advocacy group will guarantee that Texas A&M continues to be a leader in the education of first-generation college students by always implementing best practices.”
First-generation enrollment numbers continue to increase within CEHD — with first-generation students making up approximately 30 percent of the college’s total student population.
“This campus has a wealth of resources for first-gen students and it can be easy to get lost in the mix with 60,000 students,” he said. “Many first-gen students don’t know about these resources or may be cautious to ask for the resources out of fear.”
The college transition is also challenging because first-generation students face having to navigate their way through without having prior university experience to lean on from their parents. Some of the most useful free services like tutoring, access to the recreational center and student counseling may go unnoticed, said O’Neal.
“First-generation students commonly arrive on campus without a knowledgeable background of the college process. Things like FAFSA, tuition, meal plans and dorm registration often get lost in the process,” he said. “I want to make sure that when these students arrive, they have the right programming that will help them learn college culture at a quicker rate.”
O’Neal is currently creating a new program that will continue the work that is already being done toward student success. The program targets first-generation students, serving as a resource to help familiarize them with campus resources.
“Once the program starts, we basically will perform a sit down informational that will include information that first-gen students will need to be successful,” he said. “This information will focus on the importance of mental and physical health, study tips and how to properly organize student priorities.”
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