Widgets Magazine

New dean position reaches out to first-generation students

The Office of the Vice Provost for Student Affairs (VPSA) has created a new position in an attempt to respond to a growing portion of the Stanford undergraduate student body. The newly created position, titled the “associate dean and director of diversity and first-generation programs,” will be filled with the help of a 13-member search committee.

Since the University revamped its financial aid policy in 2008, there has been a steady increase in the percentage of first-generation students on campus. Almost 15 percent of the incoming freshman class identified themselves as first-generation, Vice Provost for Student Affairs Greg Boardman said.

“[The financial aid initiative] has made Stanford a lot more accessible, especially to students who are low-income or first-generation,” Boardman said. “I think this position will allow us to make a significant impact in trying to support their unique challenges in transitioning to college because their parents or families don’t have that prior experience to share with them.”

This isn’t the first attempt by the VPSA office to reach out to first-generation students. During the 2008-’09 academic year, the office partnered up with the Office of the Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education to fund a similar position. At the time, this position was filled by a recent Stanford grad.

“We wanted to see what kind of response we would get,” Boardman said. “It ended up being very positive.”

Despite the good reception, this position was cut at the end of that year due to the economic meltdown and the 15 percent University-wide budget cut that followed. This summer, however, an anonymous donor stepped forward and agreed to fund a new associate dean post for five years, reviving VPSA’s effort to reach out to first generation students.

“In this era of tight budgets, this gift allows us to expand the current support and resources we offer to the first generation community through the community centers and other campus offices,” wrote Associate Vice Provost Sally Dickson in an e-mail to The Daily.

The search committee is chaired by Shalini Bhutani, associate director of Bechtel International Center, and is comprised of students, staff and a recent graduate. It includes staff members from El Centro Chicano, the Black Community Services Center, the Financial Aid Office, the Haas Center for Public Service and Residential Education.

“The students who are actually on the committee are not there because they represent a particular group, but because they are first-generation students themselves and are committed to this work,” said Associate Vice Provost and Dean of Residential Education Deborah Golder. “They might also then be representative of other groups, but it’s really that they have the experience.”

Included on this committee is Sarah de la Garza ‘12. She is a co-president of the First-Generation and Low-Income Partnership, a student organization on campus that tries to both foster communities for first generation students and raise awareness about socioeconomic class issues.

De la Garza said that the establishment of this position is a step in the right direction for the University, as first-generation students often encounter challenges that the general student population does not have to deal with, such as having to contribute to their family’s income and not having the same experiences as their fellow classmates because of financial issues.

“It shows a conscious effort on behalf of the University that they are aware that this population exists, and it helps establish a presence among the administration,” de la Garza said. “I foresee greater interaction with student groups, better programming and a lot more open dialogue than what might have taken place in the past.”

The committee’s current goal is to fill the position by the end of this quarter. Last Monday, committee members filled out rankings to help narrow down 22 candidates to the final eight, and phone interviews will be held sometime in October.

Later in the process, the committee plans to bring the finalists to campus, giving students a chance to meet with them, ask them questions and provide their input, which will be used to come to a final decision.

“[This position] is something that institutionally we’ve needed for a while, but now, the resources are there to back it,” Golder said, “which speaks very highly to what a huge difference alumni can make in terms of advancing the needs of students.”