Book by Kathleen Cushman
Review by Jessica King
University Honors Program
University of Cincinnati

Cushman (2006) weaves together a guide for first-generation college students through the voices of sixteen of their first-generation peers. These students, some alumni and others still immersed in student life, share their tips, tricks, and pieces of acquired wisdom for navigating the college experience. They come from a range of colleges and universities, as well as from a mixture of racial and ethnic backgrounds, family situations, age brackets, immigration statuses and regions of the country.

Direct quotes that highlight pieces of students’ respective stories are told in short chapters that focus on time management, developing and refining study habits, using your resources, staying connected to your home community and family, negotiating your own identity, and more. Each chapter ends with simple worksheets and guides to complete so that the reader may input the information for immediate reference and/or go back to it in the future as that situation or circumstance arises. Questionnaires and worksheets are complemented by an extensive listing of online resources, spanning financial aid and scholarship outlets to multicultural references, to starter resources for thinking about life beyond college.

For all its diversity in terms of insights from students of racial and ethnic background, immigration status, and age, the book does still seem to focus heavily on students from particularly low social class backgrounds. Advising appointments are a good reminder that there are rules and exceptions to all rules. With that in mind, while there is most assuredly a strong correlation between socioeconomic background and level of education, first-generation students are not universally disadvantaged financially, nor are their peers with college-educated parents necessarily from a high socioeconomic background. Similarly, many college and universities are increasingly attempting to turn their focus to scholarship and support avenues for this student population, therefore at least weakening the stranglehold of this inevitably being the foremost challenge for a first-generation student. Revisiting the list of resources and the nature of the conversation with this perspective in mind would bolster the value of the text for the first-generation reader.  

In this same vein, another area of critique that would invite a second edition of this book is that already a number of the direct references, such as student use of Instant Messenger, are proving to be dated in his highly technology-driven era of college attendance. How might some of the recommendations and words of advice from students be amended in light of the pervasiveness of mobile technology on our college campuses?

Even still, for the advisor who knows you can say something over and over again, only to have a reluctant student find their “light bulb moment” only after the content is reiterated from a peer, this book is for you. More importantly, this book is also an affordable option for your office to invest in and for your students to find solace in the message that they are not the only one confronting the novelty of the college experience.

Much of the subject matter, in fact, can readily be transferred into the advising needs of non-first-generation students. The worksheets, such as “Building My Resume” and “Professors to Stay in Touch With,” are invaluable to bring directly into any type of advising appointment. The worksheets, quick tips, and recommendations for building a social and professional network and navigating the college setting are relevant recommendations for all students from any type of background.

First in the Family: Advice About College from First-Generation Students: Your College Years. (2006). Book by Kathleen Cushman. Review by Jessica King. Next Generation Press. 124 pp., $9.95, (paperback), ISBN # 0-9762706-6-8

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