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Programs provide support for family firsts

For some students, attending college is about more than graduating.

It’s about being the first in their family to graduate from college.

USF offers two programs – Student Support Services (SSS) and the Freshman Summer Institute (FSI) – that cater to students with low-income backgrounds who are the first in their families to attend college. These programs provide housing, financial aid, personal counselors and informative seminars.

Jovan Pruitt, a sophomore majoring in theater performance, said being part of the institute gave him the confidence boost he needed when he started college.

“Some of us just can’t help our family situations and for this program to be here to help low-income families and to give kids a second chance when they didn’t have it, it’s just a blessing,” he said. “It’s just a saving grace for a lot of people.”

Following their high school graduations, students starting the programs are required to take courses during Summer Session B to get a head start on acquainting themselves with the University.

SSS, a two-year program, is federally funded and has been at USF for more than 20 years. FSI, a one-year program, grew out of SSS as a way to aid more students and is funded solely by the University.

Mack Davis, director of FSI, said SSS usually reaches its capacity very quickly, which is why the University started its own program.

“FSI allows the University the option to enroll more students who are low-income first-generation students,” he said.

SSS, which can serve around 220 students at a time, enrolled 100 students into its program this summer and FSI enrolled 142.

Once students are in a program, they are urged to get involved at USF and are required to attend advising meetings with their counselors.

“They form a relation with one counselor over that freshman year and they are able to work through most of the problems that our students are going to encounter,” Davis said. “Many of them still return their second and third year just to maintain that relation with their counselor.”

Stephen Tyler, a sophomore finance and marketing major, said being in FSI and starting in the summer helped him transition from high school to college.

“I felt like I wasn’t just a regular freshman because I already knew where all the buildings were,” he said. “I already knew what to expect from my teachers, how to use Blackboard and everything, so I was good to go.”

Tyler said he liked being a part of FSI so much that he returned his sophomore year as a counselor to help other freshmen.

“I just help them out with whatever they need. I’m there for them 24/7,” he said.

Both SSS and FSI can hire students that have completed their own programs.

Yolaika Rosario, a senior majoring in communication sciences and disorders, is the summer program coordinator for SSS. She said being part of SSS was a big help.

“It’s a great opportunity for students to be a part of and I’m very appreciative that I was able to come into SSS my freshman year,” she said. “We’re a family and we all love each other.”

Reba Garth, SSS director, said the two-year program prepares students to move into their college of choice. After the first two years, students look to their individual colleges for guidance.

“To actually see students succeed and graduate is the most rewarding part,” she said.

Rasheen Gadson, a freshman in SSS taking classes this summer, said she plans to make full use of the program so she can fulfill the dream of being the first in her family to graduate from college.

“I’m taking advantage of every free thing I get and learning as much as I possibly can,” she said. “Every opportunity you have in your life – you should take advantage of it. I don’t just want to go to college, I want to graduate with a degree.”