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Owl Access program launches for FGLI new students


Courtesy Brandon Martin 

Owl Access students bond before the Lighting the Way to Our Future Ceremony at the Baker Institue fountain.

By Spring Chenjp     8/29/23 11:33pm

The Office of Student Success Initiatives implemented the Owl Access pre-orientation program for first-generation and/or low-income new students for the first time this year. New students moved in on Thursday, Aug. 10 and participated in three days of workshops prior to Orientation Week.

Assistant Director of First Generation Initiatives Chelsea Blake said the program was developed after FGLI students identified a need for greater support during the transition to university.

“Owl Access emerged as a student-led initiative from some of our current FGLI students who were looking for ways to improve the college experience for future FGLI students at Rice,” Blake wrote in an email to the Thresher. “After surveying our FGLI student population, many of them agreed that their transition to Rice would have been better supported had there been more opportunities to teach them how to navigate Rice, utilize all campus resources … and prepare them for the unwritten rules or expectations in a university setting.”

According to Jaquelyne Bardales, a peer mentor for Owl Access, the program is intended to support FGLI students who face unique challenges during the transition to university. The program discussed topics like the FGLI experience, imposter syndrome and study strategies.

“Freshman year really was a struggle [for FGLI students] since we were really lost,” Bardales, a Duncan College junior, said. “We knew that the Center for Career Development, [Student Success Initiatives] and other organizations existed, but [we] weren’t sure how to access them and were scared to ask for help.”

Owl Access participant Diego Garcia said the program helped decrease feelings of imposter syndrome prior to his matriculation.

“[Owl Access] was really useful in helping me kick-start the transition from high school to Rice,” Garcia, a Wiess College freshman, said. “When I found out I was accepted [to Rice], I didn’t feel like the demographic of student that would have gone here because my high school wasn’t as well-resourced as [that of] what I pictured the typical Rice student to be.”

Garcia said Owl Access also helped him meet students with similar backgrounds.

“Owl Access really gave us the opportunity to connect with people who feel a similar way and feel like we don’t belong, but we’ve helped each other find a community,” Garcia said. “Two of my best friends that I’ve made here at Rice so far are from Owl Access.”

Student director of Owl Access America Salas said that in addition to student events, programming for parents and families was a priority.

“A lot of first-generation students struggle with, ‘I have to explain all of this to my parents,’” Salas, a Wiess junior, said. “We wanted to make sure that the parents understood what was happening as their child transitioned into college. [The families’] schedule addressed the main things, like financial aid and safety, but also the residential college system because that’s very unique to Rice.”

Looking forward, Blake said SSI has begun planning future iterations of Owl Access, and student leaders are evaluating potential changes to the program. 

“A lot of the feedback I got from students is that they wanted to be with their families more, especially for move-in,” Salas said.

Additionally, Bardales said she felt that there could have been more emphasis on spending time with new students as a peer mentor. 

“The mentorship aspect was lost a bit because they were so focused on programming,” Bardales said. “There wasn’t much time to be with the new students, [since] it wasn’t in the programming I had to make it work … Now I host study breaks. It might have not been during the program, but that’s what the semester and whole year is for.”

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