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May 18, 2017; Daily Pennsylvanian

Most students find the process of starting one’s career after college to be difficult and stressful. But, for first-generation college students, it can be particularly challenging. Students with college-educated parents often gain incidental exposure to the norms and protocols of the professional world and learn how to successfully navigate a path toward career development. When one is first in one’s family to graduate from higher education, those connections might be limited or nonexistent.

Moreover, the percentage of first-generation college students may be higher than you’d think. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 34 percent of undergraduates are the first in their families to go to college. An additional 28 percent have parents with some college experience but not a bachelor’s degree. This means a significant proportion of college students may not have a built-in professional networking support system.

A nonprofit in Philadelphia, the Collective Success Network, was recently created to ameliorate this problem. Collective Success connects first generation low-income (FGLI) students with professionals across a variety of industries in the Greater Philadelphia region.

The founder, David Thai, a current student at the University of Pennsylvania, found himself lacking the connections he needed to obtain an internship. He understood that many of his friends, who were also first-generation students, were facing the same issues.

“I didn’t know the skills or things you had to do to really get your foot into the door,” Thai said. “I thought it was just dropping your resume and waiting to hear back.”

Collective Success is currently operating at two Philadelphia universities—the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University—and helping students gain greater understanding of the mysterious yet necessary practice of networking and how to develop the “soft skills” needed to advance in the world of work.

Wesley Wong, a first-generation student who now works as a senior consultant at Ernst & Young, said he hopes to serve as a useful mentor and resource for students who come from similar backgrounds.

“If students have career questions or are interested in certain industries, I can point them to certain resources or give them tips or guidance,” Wong said. “But I’d also say that Collective Success is not just a network, but a community where FGLI students can come together to share their struggles and support each other.”

Interested in learning more about how to support the professional development needs of first-generation college students in your city? Check out this report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers.—Lauren Miltenberger