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First-Gen Bulldog Program awarded $133,000 duPont grant

By Luanne Williams

The Jessie Ball duPont Fund has awarded Wingate’s First-Gen Bulldog Program $133,250 to support first-generation students at the University. The grant, to be used over a two-year period, will fund initiatives such as a summer bridge program, cultural trips, parent/guardian orientation sessions, academic workshops, stipends for peer mentors and hardship scholarships. More than 40 percent of Wingate’s current freshmen class are first-gen. 

Antonio Jefferson

Antonio Jefferson, Wingate’s assistant vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion, says the grant will also allow the University to extend additional support to sophomores, juniors and seniors who are the first in their families to pursue four-year degrees.  

“This is amazing and will help our first-gen students in so many ways,” said Jefferson, who was notified Friday about the grant. A first-gen student himself back in 2001, he understands the confusion that many students feel as they try to navigate college. 

“Being the first in your family to attend college can be challenging. Not being fully aware of campus resources can lead to a lack of belonging, difficulties connecting socially or academic challenges,” he said. That’s why he took the lead to start Wingate’s First-Gen Bulldog Program last summer with help from a Board of Visitors grant. 

The 44 freshmen in the program have been able to take advantage of monthly workshops to help with time management, study habits and more and were assigned rising-senior mentors to help answer day-to-day questions. 

“We did a two-day orientation before the other students got to campus, but the summer bridge program this new grant will fund would extend that to a couple of weeks. Plus, we want to expand what we’re doing with parents and guardians to create partnerships with them and offer more information sessions,” Jefferson said. He envisions bringing in facilitators and motivational speakers to address first-gen issues, including how to navigate the financial-aid process. 

“Also, the ability to provide hardship funding would be new and would help out. If a student can’t afford a book or maybe they have issues with a laptop or something else that is standing in the way of their success, we’ll be able to help bridge that gap,” he said. 

In addition to an anticipated 50-member freshmen cohort, Jefferson says the new grant funding will benefit first-gen sophomores, juniors and seniors, more than tripling the number of students currently served by the program. He looks forward to being able to offer workshops to address sophomore slump, to target first-gen juniors with career prep help and to ensure that first-gen seniors get extra assistance preparing for jobs. 

“We’re hoping to collaborate with offices across campus, because they all have first -gen students who walk through their doors,” Jefferson said. 

The announcement of the grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund follows other good news shared recently by the First-Gen Bulldog Program as it became the beneficiary of the Katherine Mann Endowed Fund for First-Generation Students. The fund was established by Tom and Jane Mann to honor their daughter, Katherine, who graduated from Wingate in 2007. Also, during the University’s annual funding push (One Day, One Dog) last week, 68 donors contributed nearly $10,000 to first-gen programming. 

“I believe there is growing interest to support first-gen students across the nation,” Jefferson said. He’s most encouraged by the outcomes he’s already seeing at Wingate. 

Not only was the collective first-semester GPA of students in the program higher than for all first-time freshmen combined, but the majority of First-Gen Bulldog students have expressed interest in mentoring next year’s cohort. 

April 13, 2022