Lahti said it is important to recognize first-generation students because if they decide to go to college they are breaking new ground in their families. “I didn’t recognize college as something I could do or as a possibility,” he said.
In high school, Lahti, of Grand Rapids, Minn., was part of TRIO – Upward Bound at Itasca Community College. Upward Bound is designed to help students improve their study skills and learn about attending college. Lahti attended Itasca Community College his first year out of high school before transferring to UW-Stout.
“Upward Bound really showed different avenues and tools that would make college possible,” he said.
Lahti decided to attend UW-Stout for the program. His brother, Jack, is a junior majoring in computer science. His sister, Angel, attended UW-Stout for a year before she decided to join the Air Force.
Lahti is a part of the UW-Stout McNair Scholars Program that advises, supports and equips students when making postbaccalaureate goals. Scholars receive undergraduate research opportunities, faculty advisement and mentoring, Graduate Records Examination preparation help and support to help them reach their graduate school goals.
As part of his senior research project, Lahti is developing a virtual reality program to help encourage those with dementia or Alzheimer’s disease to exercise.
“The McNair Scholars Program definitely helps you know you can pursue a degree beyond a bachelor’s degree,” Lahti said. “They give you the tools to help provide that next step. I do plan eventually to go to graduate school.”
For other first-generation students planning to attend college who are concerned they are not prepared, Lahti said it can be difficult but very rewarding. “The first few weeks are going to be hard,” he said, noting many will think college is not for them. “Try to give yourself a year. After the first year, you will say, ‘I can do this.’ I promise if you give yourself time and do your best, there is so much you can accomplish.”
UW-Stout also has the TRIO Student Support Services program, which serves, first-generation students, students who meet low-income criteria and students with disabilities. The objectives of TRIO, funded through the U.S. Department of Education, are to increase the good academic standing, retention and graduation rates of students it serves.
Services include supplementing a variety of academic supports, access to writing and math specialists, financial literacy education, peer tutoring, peer mentoring and leadership training.
UW-Stout recently received two, five-year continuation grants for TRIO SSS.