University Counseling Services Holds Focus Group for First-Generation Students

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University Counseling Services (UCS) hosted its first focus group for first-generation students on Friday. The 90-minute conversation gave students an opportunity to describe their experiences and struggles at Boston College, with the intention of gaining a better understanding of the specific resources that these students need.

This space for discussion was created to address the unique challenges that first-generation college students face during their college careers. The focus group was one of the several steps UCS has taken toward accommodating first-generation students.

“UCS is interested in gathering information about the mental health needs of first generation college students at BC,” Sarah Piontkowski, a staff psychologist at UCS, said in an email. “This is a growing population at BC and at other colleges and universities nation-wide, and historically has been one that tends to underutilize resources.”

UCS is planning to use the feedback from the focus groups to improve the resources that are currently available to students. Piontkowski acknowledges that BC has room to grow when it comes to accomodating first-generation students, and this is the first step in bettering UCS’s response.

Each year during orientation, BC’s Office of Institutional Research distributes the Cooperative Institutional Research Program survey. The survey is a questionnaire that gives the University a comprehensive picture of the diversity and sentiments of its incoming class. According to the survey’s results, first-generation students have made up 11 to 12 percent of BC’s freshman classes over the last 10 years. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, first-generation students represent roughly 30 percent of those entering higher education nationally.

First-generation students are also welcome to utilize UCS’s individual therapy, group therapy, and consultation services when dealing with adjustment. These meetings will also help UCS to determine whether specialized resources are necessary for this population of students.

Piontkowski said that UCS has already seen some interest in the focus groups and hopes that students continue to work with UCS to address the gaps in their services when it comes to first-generations students.

While UCS has seen an influx in student need this semester, Piontkowski said that her team continues to provide the same level of clinical care for students.

Piontkowski is a member of the Diversity Committee of University Counseling Services, a group that, according to its website, works to promote a broad definition of diversity and inclusivity within the BC community.

UCS has held similar needs assessment sessions in the past and has established programs that support historically underrepresented student populations at BC, such as AHANA Voices, which gives minority students the opportunity to discuss their experiences and challenges.

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