First generation college students are on the rise but supporting their unique needs continues to evolve; especially in the STEM (science, technology, engineering & mathematics) fields in higher education.
Author: Holly Legleiter
As we wrap up National First-Generation College Celebration week, we want to celebrate student's achievements and seek solutions to further support first-generation students in STEM.
Serdar Bilgili is a fifth-year doctoral student in Physics at West Virginia University (WVU) immersed in Plasma Physics research.Looking back to his high school year, he set his mind on becoming a physicist, so his journey began at Boğaziçi University in Turkey. He continued his educational journey at WVU where he finished his master’s degree in Mechanical Aerospace Engineering studying Fluid Dynamics and Turbulence and also became a part of Combustion research team.
His research is greatly influenced by his desires to seek solutions for the current energy crisis.He currently studies the characteristics of instabilities and turbulence in plasmas that influence the evolution of mass and energy distribution across the system.He explains the connection between his research and his aspirations to address the climate crisis. Serdar says “these studies are essential for building stable fusion reactors as a steady and clean energy source in the near future,thus saving the Earth.”
As a first-generation college student, he remembers noticing a disparity among other first-generation students and non first-generation college students in terms of class participation, reaching out for help and resources, getting involved in social activities, and face-to-face communication. Remembering differences, whether that be socioeconomic or educational preparedness, it was obvious.He notes “I think the first-gen college students need to become aware of the "extra" support they may require for building their future careers.”
Specifically, being a first-generation student in STEM, he stresses the importance of being proactive, asking questions, seeking support and getting involved in any way you can.“I would tell myself to keep calm and not be afraid to reach out to the available resources. You have the right to see and learn things as they are in the world, so try being an active observer, such as visiting a power plant to ask questions about how things work, taking an appointment at an engineering company to inquire about their projects, or contact a research team in a university to see if you could be there during their experiments and maybe take part in it,”explains Serdar.
Furthering the support of first-generation college students in STEM is the First2 Network.The First2 Network aims at improving the college enrollment rate and success of undergraduate STEM students, with emphasis on rural first-generation students through their first 2 years of college.Initiatives supporting their mission include: creating new ways to improve the STEM college experience, connecting successful programs that improve the persistence of first generation STEM students, conducting educational research, fostering new partnerships and programs that support STEM success and supporting a robust network of across West Virginia and other rural states across the country.
If you are interested in supporting or getting involved in the First2 Network, please visit https://first2network.org.
Celebrating National First Generation College week by looking at a success story like Serdar’s, and becoming involved in successful solutions, like the First2 Network, we can recognize their resilience, celebrate their achievements, while also working to remove systemic barriers in higher education.