Putting Our Students First

Putting Our Students First

Creighton is committed to doing more for our first-generation students, through programs, scholarships and the campus resources our learners need to thrive.

By Micah Mertes

Creighton student Angelina Manasan’s liver failed before her first birthday, and every year since has been a fight for the life she wants to lead.

Her mother gave her half of her own liver when a match couldn’t be found. This saved Manasan’s life but left her with an autoimmune disease. Ever since, she’s been in and out of hospitals, her mother by her side.

So, moving from San Diego to Omaha for college — 1,600 miles away from the literal life-support system of her mother — was no easy decision for Manasan, a student in the College of Arts and Sciences.

As a woman of color with a health condition, raised by a single mother (who didn’t go to college herself), Manasan’s odds of attaining a degree were stacked against her. It was vital to find the right school.

She fell in love with Creighton, in part, because even before she was a student, people at the University shared how they could best support her.

Her freshman year, donor-funded scholarships helped her pay tuition and fees. Almost immediately, she was in touch with Creighton’s Disability Services office and TRiO Student Support Services. They’ve been there for Manasan every time she’s needed help. As have her peers and professors. Everyone, she said, has supported her not just as a student but as a whole person.

“At Creighton, it goes beyond school and academics,” she says. “I’ve been afforded an opportunity not only to go to a great college. I’ve joined a community. I’ve found a home.”

When it comes to first-generation Creighton students — a student whose parents or guardians did not obtain a four-year degree from a college or university — Manasan’s story is among the ideal. She’s a student from an underrepresented background who found a support system that helps her thrive academically and become part of a community.

That support system includes scholarships and a network of student services and organizations. It includes a community of faculty, staff and alumni committed to meeting the everyday needs of each and every student throughout their Creighton journey. (This support system now extends to the Southwest. This semester, the newly opened Creighton Health Sciences Campus – Phoenix welcomed its first group of four-year medical students, 1 in 5 of which are first-generation.)

“Creighton University is devoted to the success of first-generation students,” says Mardell Wilson, EdD, Creighton provost. “And our innovative programming has provided a welcoming and supportive environment.”

Because of its many programs designed to ensure the success of first-generation students, Creighton was recently awarded the designation of First-gen Forward by the Center for First-generation Student Success, an initiative of NASPA – Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education and the Suder Foundation.

As a First-gen Forward institution, Creighton’s faculty and staff will have new opportunities to engage with peer institutions also committed to creating more inclusive environments for first-generation students.

Ideally, the effect of this commitment will be cumulative and self-reinforcing. Creating more opportunities for students from underrepresented walks of life leads to a more diverse campus, ethnically and socioeconomically.

“I would like to see more first-generation students like me at Creighton,” says Diana Rojas-Chavez, a Distance Pathway pharmacy student in the School of Pharmacy and Health Professions. “Offering scholarships and programs creates opportunities that many first-generation students may have not even thought possible.”

More diversity generates more diversity, creating a richer variety of experiences and an even more welcoming campus. A home.

Creighton’s recognition as a First-gen Forward institution shows the University’s commitment to embracing the ways first-generation students enrich our campus, says Krystal Rice, BA’08, director of TRiO Student Support Services (SSS).

“Across campus,” she says, “we will continue to build programming that lifts these students’ voices and equips campus partners with the resources they need.”

The University recently launched a campus-wide effort to serve first-generation students, combining programs that are already doing a lot of good — like TRiO SSS — with new initiatives.   

Joe Ecklund, PhD, who oversees Creighton’s Educational Opportunity Programs, says Creighton is committed to doing more for first-generation students. Ecklund is the co-chair of Creighton’s newly formed First-generation Forward Council.  

“With this council,” he says, “we’re really exploring, ‘What does the social experience for first-generation students look like? What does the academic experience look like? What are the issues our students face?’

“Over this academic year, you’re going to begin to see a lot more initiatives and energy focused on direct services, programs and activities dedicated to supporting first-generation students.”

One initiative is already underway — the Creighton First Community. The program connects incoming first-generation students with current first-generation students, offering a peer-to-peer support system.

“Through this program, students will know who they can connect with on campus, someone who knows what they’re going through,” says Justin Stoeckle, BSBA’14, assistant director for transitions in Student Life and co-chair of the First-Generation Forward Council.

Stoeckle says that all aspects of the effort to support first-generation students at Creighton — the council, the programs, the coordination of resources — will be designed to provide a more holistic, organic approach. Not to tell the students what they need but to ask them what they need. And then help provide it.

“Above all, there’s this yearning for a sense of community,” Stoeckle says. “For first-generation students, we want to cultivate a space where we can celebrate the fact that what these students are doing is wonderful. That Creighton is lucky to have them and that we’re a better community for it.”

First-Generation Students Discuss Their Creighton Experience

Jacob Idra | Heider College of Business | Class of 2022

Born in the South Sudan and raised in North Omaha, Jacob says it’s his life’s mission to serve the next generation of children in each of his communities.

“Academically, Creighton has been everything

I would want and more. I’ve been challenged in the classroom. I’ve had great professors who I’ve been able to engage with. It’s been great to have many options to utilize as a first-generation student.

If I’m really going through a tough time, I’ll know where to find someone I can trust and rely on.”

More about Jacob: In 2018, he founded the Omaha-based nonprofit ROSS Leaders, which aims to unify the South Sudanese and Greater African communities through programs dedicated to education, health and cultural awareness. He’s also an advocate for educational opportunities, writing editorials and testifying before the Nebraska Legislature on the topic.

“Everything I’m learning and experiencing at Creighton — it’s all going to go back into supporting my communities,” he says.

Alison Sundrup | Heider College of Business | Class of 2023

Alison was adopted from China and raised by a single mother. It means everything to her mom that she’s getting a great education.

“Everyone is very supportive at Creighton, but they also don’t treat you like you’re someone at a disadvantage because you’re first-generation. As a first-generation student, I always strive to be better, because I know so many other people haven’t had the chance to go to college. I pray that in the future I can give back to students wishing to better their lives.”

More about Alison: At Creighton, she’s taken part in service projects through the Schlegel Center for Service and Justice, tutoring children after school. She recently secured an internship in the advisory department of a major accounting firm.

“While we’re getting a great education at Creighton, we’re also learning how to better the world,” she says. “I really love the emphasis on community service at Creighton because it reminds us all that we were called by God to help others and spread love.”

Kristina Davis | College of Arts and Sciences | Class of 2022

The first semester of her freshman year, Kristina struggled. Her family had no experience with college and managing that transition 400 miles from her hometown had been difficult. Then, during Christmas break, the unthinkable happened — Kristina lost her sister in a car accident.

“It was so hard to come back to Creighton after that. But I remember that next semester, sitting down with Krystal Rice (SSS director), and she cried with me and supported me, and I realized how much love she has for me and her other students. It would have been easy for me to slip through the cracks and not finish college. But she helped me pull through.

“Once I admitted to myself that I needed help, I knew where to find it. People like Krystal and my professors, they’ve helped me in so many ways. They’ve genuinely cared for me as a person. You feel cared for at Creighton, and I don’t know if I would have found that anywhere else.”

More about Kristina: For her final semester at Creighton, Kristina is conducting research in the Psychology Department and doing an internship at a therapist’s office. After graduation, the small-town Nebraska native plans to travel the world, doing research and taking part in volunteer organizations.

Taylor Fry | College of Nursing | Class of 2023

When Taylor was a sophomore in high school, her little sister spent seven months in Children’s Hospital in Omaha being treated for acute myeloid leukemia. (Her sister is now in remission.) Before that moment, Taylor hadn’t really considered pursuing a career in health care. But the way the nurses cared for her sister and family made her want to care for others herself someday.

Five years later, she’s not only a Creighton nursing student, she’s a nursing intern at Children’s Hospital. On her second day of training, she worked on the same floor where her sister was treated and found many of the same nurses who cared for her.

“It’s surreal to now be on the other side of things and get to help take care of families who are in the same position that my family was.”

More about Taylor: At Creighton, Taylor says she’s learning to be the kind of nurse that made her want to be a nurse in the first place.

“It can be tough being a first-generation student,” she says. “But Creighton has done a great job of supporting me through everything — from the counselors to the financial aid office to organizations like Student Support Services. People are here to help you, and they’re just really clear about what you need to get done so you can do what you want to do with your life.

“I’ve still got two years left in the College of Nursing, and I’m already getting to do what feels like my life’s purpose.”

Celina Prince, MS’16, DDS’21 | School of Dentistry

“Creighton is a really supportive community. My professors were so accessible, and a few have been a huge influence on me. And the support I received from scholarships just reveals that sense of community at Creighton.

“As a first-generation student from a small, rural town, I’ve had a profound experience being surrounded by such brilliant and ambitious people.”

More about Celina: When the dental school clinic would get a new patient with high fear or anxiety, they would often send them to Celina. Her personality puts people at ease. She’s not afraid to relate her own experiences. And she’s all the better dentist for it.

This realization has shaped her career plans. One day, she says, she hopes to own her own practice and create “a sanctuary” for patients with high dental anxiety.

César Magaña Linares | School of Law | Class of 2022

César’s family moved from El Salvador to America when he was 2, and he’s spent most of his life in Fremont, Nebraska, and Omaha. He’s also a first-generation college student who has thrived at Creighton, thanks to the support of scholarships and the law school’s dedicated faculty and staff.

“I love being a Creighton law student. I love the University’s passion for fighting for the marginalized. I love the talent and dedication of the law faculty, who are always there to offer advice or encouragement.”

More about César: During his time in the School of Law so far, César has worked as an immigration activist, a full-time law clerk, a full-time intern for Yale Law School’s Worker & Immigrant Rights Advocacy Clinic, president of multiple Creighton student groups, a mentor to first-year law students and as a member of the Creighton Scholars Program.

Charles D’Alessandro | School of Medicine | Class of 2022

Initially planning to specialize in psychiatry, Charles changed his career plans after participating in the Project CURA service trip following his first year of medical school. While abroad in Pune, India, he discovered a passion for working with kids and now plans to enter pediatrics after completing his medical degree.

“Working with kids just kind of changed my whole outlook. I was like, ‘Why do I want to go into medicine in the first place?’ To give comfort to people in times of vulnerability and need. I don’t think there’s any way to get closer to that goal than working with children.”

More about Charles: A native of Long Island, New York, Charles says moving to the Midwest was a bit of a culture shock, but after three years of medical school, it feels like a second home. He says the mentorship and support he’s found at Creighton have proven invaluable as he navigates medical school and life ahead.

Diana Rojas-Chavez | School of Pharmacy and Health Professions | Class of 2023

Diana is a pharmacy Distance Pathway student with two children and a husband in the U.S. Army. Somewhere along the way, through many struggles, Diana says, “I found a fight in me that wouldn’t give up until I had the title of ‘PharmD’ after my name.

“I had some issues last year — I was alone with my children, my husband was stationed across the country, and my mother was in critical condition with COVID. I just reached out to Creighton for help. I contacted the educational department. I called my advisors. I spoke with the chaplain. I met with a group of Creighton students who are military spouses. They all helped me so much. They took care of me not just as a student, but a person.”

More about Diana: She is a 4.0 grade-point-average student who works from home offering medication therapy management, primarily for geriatric patients. She also does STEM outreach for elementary students in underserved areas.

“When we take our success back to our communities, back to our roots, to show the upcoming first-generation students that it can be done, it creates a long-lasting effect in those communities,” she says.

Learn More, Provide Support

Interested in learning more about the resources and opportunities available for first-generation students at Creighton? Contact creightonfirst@creighton.edu.

Please consider making a gift to scholarships supporting students from underrepresented backgrounds and first-generation students. Find a list of giving opportunities at alumni.creighton.edu/diversity-and-inclusion-scholarships.