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Penn First Plus (P1P) hosts the Penn First Plus Course Materials Access Initiative, which helps students obtain access codes to electronic textbooks. 

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

As a new school year begins, many members of the Class of 2025 will step foot on campus as the first in their family to attend an institution of higher education. Because navigating college can be a daunting experience, Penn offers resources to support students who identify as first-generation or low-income.

Here’s what you need to know about the resources available to FGLI students this upcoming semester.

Student groups

Penn has nine student groups specifically for FGLI students that offer both academic- and identity-related support, the latter of which includes gender, sexuality, race, and ethnicity-focused groups.

Penn First, founded in 2015, is the oldest FGLI student organization on campus. College senior and Penn First advocacy chair Jade Gonzalez said that Penn First has many events and opportunities planned for students in the coming months, including a peer mentorship program and FGLI student summit meeting.

Other organizations were created to explore the intersection between the FGLI identity and other marginalized identities. FGLIQ is an organization that supports LGBTQ students at Penn who also identify as first-generation or low-income. Seven|Eight is a community for FGLI Asian Pacific Islander Desi American students on campus.

Gonzalez urged students to take advantage of Penn's many extracurricular opportunities, adding that some clubs and organizations which may charge fees for membership have programs to subsidize costs for FGLI students.

“Don't get so caught up in comparing yourself to your peers,” Gonzalez said. “One of the cool things about Penn is that we are all so different.”

Separate from the Student Activities Council fair hosted every semester to introduce students to clubs and organizations on campus, Gonzalez said that Penn First and other FGLI affinity groups are planning to host a FGLI-specific fair in September.

Campus offices

Penn also has a number of on-campus offices that aim to serve as social hubs and resources for FGLI students.

In 2016, student leaders in Penn First successfully negotiated the creation of Penn’s first FGLI-oriented space on campus. Housed in the Greenfield Intercultural Center, the FGLI Center consisted of two rooms and was led by a part-time coordinator. Today, the FGLI Program at the GIC organizes a food pantry and textbook library in partnership with Penn Libraries and is led by full-time program coordinator Toyce Holmes.

This fall, the GIC will be open to all students from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday and Friday and from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday.

“We find that students might need to come in and print or use our computer lab — you're certainly welcome to do that,” Holmes said. “And we have study spaces that students can go to our website and reserve.”

Penn First Plus, an academic office created to support FGLI students, opened its newly renovated office space in College Hall last semester, securing a hub specifically for FGLI students on campus. The P1P office will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Monday to Friday and students can swipe into the office with their PennCard.

P1P Executive Director Marc Lo said students can come into the P1P office at any time to speak to faculty or staff or to utilize the study spaces — either by reserving a private study room or using the public spaces in the office.

“We look forward to balancing student safety with their desire to connect with each other and with us,” Lo said. “We'll also experiment with how late the office should be open, [and] I think we're going to seek some feedback from students.”

During New Student Orientation, P1P will be hosting shopping trips to the nearby IKEA, as well as campus tours, preceptorials, and welcome sessions that introduce first years to FGLI resources on Penn’s campus.

Academic and personal resources

Both the FGLI Program and P1P have dedicated programs to help students afford the high cost of course materials such as textbooks.

Holmes said the FGLI Program's donated textbook library exists as a last resort for students who have exhausted their options to obtain required course materials. The library, which is housed in Van Pelt Library, is a modest collection of donated books from previous students. Students can search for and request a specific title through the Penn Libraries system.

P1P hosts a similar program for FGLI students enrolled in popular introductory courses called the Penn First Plus Course Materials Access Initiative. Through a partnership with all of the undergraduate schools at Penn, Penn Libraries, and the Student Registration & Financial Services office, P1P can help students obtain access codes to electronic textbooks.

During the semester, the FGLI Program also hosts a food pantry for students through a partnership with Penn Food and Wellness, Holmes said. It aims to provide for students who may need extra help getting food temporarily. Most foods are non-perishable, but the pantry also receives fresh produce grown in the Penn Park Farm.

The GIC has also launched a mentorship program aimed for FGLI students called Penn FLASH. Alumni who either identified as FGLI students in the past or want to support students from marginalized backgrounds have joined the network as mentors to students at Penn.

Similarly to platforms like LinkedIn, alumni may post internship and job opportunities for FGLI students on the platform, and through the Penn FLASH Projects feature, students and alumni can collaborate on specific mini-projects that help students get professional experience.

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