Communication research team seeks first-generation alumni for study

Mahalia Henschel
Mahalia Henschel celebrating after earning her B.A. in communication studies. She is the first in her family to earn a bachelor's degree.

A group of researchers from the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University is launching a study to identify ways in which firstgeneration undergraduate students have successfully navigated the completion of their degree.  

elizabeth williams working with students.
Elizabeth Williams, associate professor of communications studies, teaching the senior capstone course SPCM479.

Elizabeth Williams, associate professor of organizational and health communication and research lead, is joined by communication studies graduate students Mellissa Patton and Jade Young in the project. Patton and Young’s initial research on the presence of imposter syndrome within first-generation graduate students helped inspire the effort.  

“Research to date has shown that first-generation student attrition in the first year of college is double that of non-first-generation students,” Williams says.  

In listening to the stories from CSU graduates,” Patton sayswe can have a better understanding of accessible resources that were useful, as well as resources that they needed but could not access.”  

The researchers are recruiting first-generation alumni who graduated from Colorado State University between 2015 and 2019Interested alumni will be asked to participate in a phone interview lasting from 30 minutes to an hour.  

“We’re targeting recently graduated alumni because CSU has increased its focus on first-generation student experiences in the past five years,” Patton says.  

Results of the study will help guide conversations regarding services and resources for first-generation students at Colorado State University.  

Williams, who identifies as a first-generation student, remembers feeling like she was always just a step behind other students as they pursued internships, formed relationships with faculty, and decided on career pathways.   

I eventually figured those things out, but I was constantly observing others to see what I should be doing,” Williams says.  

Patton, who also identifies as a firstgeneration student, says she didn’t know where to find opportunities for professional development as an undergrad. She eventually found a paid position with the student government, and the professional staff she worked with became her guide, helping answer questions and find resources.  

I always thought getting a bachelor’s degree was the last step, but they showed me that there were other opportunities to continue my education if I wanted,” Patton says. “That’s what led me to my masters program here at CSU. 

First generation alumni needed for research study
To participate in the study, email and a researcher will follow up.

Ultimately, the research team hopes to share recommendations with CSU departments, colleges, and the administration, and collaboratively work towards better resources for first-generation students.  

“We really want to help bolster the resources that give incoming and current first-generation studenthope and a clear path for what they can achieve in the future,” Williams says 

To participate in the study, email and a researcher will follow up. Email questions about the project to Williams at The Department of Communication Studies is in CSU’s College of Liberal Arts.