SD-First Program offers scholarships, resources, and more to first generation students at the School of Mines


RAPID CITY, S.D. (KELO) — At the South Dakota School of Mines, one-third of incoming students are first-generation. They are the first in their families to earn a bachelor’s degree, which may make their college experience a little more difficult.

Livi Jurrens is a junior at the School of Mines and a first generation student.

“Once I got to college it was really scary. I didn’t really know what I was doing most of the time and it was a lot of just trying to find anyone who could help me,” Jurrens said.

Fortunately, Jurrens found a support group that made her college experience less intimidating.

“Yeah I do, I definitely feel a lot more confident and I think I will easily be able to graduate,” Jurrens said.

The SD-First Program offers scholarships of up to 5,000 dollars a year for four years for first generation students.

“And it will provide not only scholarships, but also support components for academic and social pieces so mentoring, workshops, things like that,” Cassandra Birrenkott, Associate Professor on Mechanical Engineering, said.

Dr. Birrenkott is a principal investigator on the project. She says first-generation students are particularly vulnerable to leaving college without a degree.

At Mines, the current five-year graduation rate for first-generation students is roughly half of that for the general student population.

“We want all students at the School of Mines to be successful and this group is no different and if there are struggles that they are facing, we want to help them with some of those struggles and give them the resources that they need,” Dr. Birrenkott said.

Jurrens expects the SD-First Program will leave a great impact on the next incoming first generation students.

“I definitely think it will make the transition from high school to college so much easier,” Jurrens said.

The SD-First Program is funded by a $998,000 grant through the National Science Foundation S-STEM program. As well as a private donor.

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