Retired UC faculty strengthen support for Gen-1 community

Donors bond with students through mutual understanding

XiyannaXiyanna Kellogg tells freshmen in the University of Cincinnati’s Gen-1 Program to call her “Mama Xiyanna.” The third-year College-Conservatory of Music and College of Arts & Sciences student empathizes with the unique challenges new first-generation students face.

“I tell them, ‘You are about to get a whole lesson,’” she says with a big smile. “A lot of us struggle with the balance of college life without any family help.”

Established in 2008 as the nation’s first living-learning community for first-generation students, Gen-1 is housed in UC’s Division of Student Affairs. Gen-1 helps Pell-eligible, first-generation students transition to college, and gives them a structured environment to live, learn and work toward their degrees.

When she’s helping new students, Xiyanna says she’s modeling the Gen-1 staff who are like family. She easily rattles off all that Gen-1 provides students: life skills classes, service-learning experiences, academic support, career opportunities and even access to food and clothing help, if needed.

But the emotional support, Xiyanna says, is just as important.

“A bunch of us got sick once at Thanksgiving and (Director) Suzette Combs and (Assistant Director) Amber Conley brought us ginger ale, soup and crackers,” she remembers. “They are like your parents away from home. You can talk to them about anything.”

Donors like Drs. John Cuppoletti and Danuta Malinowska, emeriti professors at the UC College of Medicine, are part of this tight community. The couple provides scholarships and other needed support to Gen-1 students.

Thanks to their generosity, Xiyanna was able to study abroad in Germany. She met the doctors at a Gen-1 cooking class.

“For someone like me, who is a minority and a first-generation student, it’s nice to meet people like them,” Xiyanna says of the experience. “They understand.”

Dr. Cuppoletti knows what it’s like to be a first-generation student, having been one himself. He and Dr. Malinowska recently made an additional commitment to the program in their estate plan, which will have a significant long-term impact on Gen-1.

“This cadre of kids that my wife and I are trying to help have fewer resources,” he says. “What happens is that when they have a little bit of support, they graduate at 76 percent, compared to the national average of 11 percent. Talk about a really good investment in humans. They just need the right kind of support.”

One difference Dr. Cuppoletti references is responsibility. Many Gen-1 students have family obligations that involve caretaking and bills.

Noah and sisterNoah Oki, an Informational Technology Cybersecurity major in the College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services, says helping his mother and sister is usually on his mind. He was able to take his sister on a trip to Newport Aquarium, thanks to the generosity of Drs. Cuppoletti and Malinowska; they paid for students and family members to attend. The couple participated in what was a fun and educational day for members of the Gen-1 community.

“It was nice that someone wanted to take time out and do something for us,” Noah says. “I don’t think I would be in the same spot if it wasn’t for Gen-1 because they expose you to so many ideas, resources and opportunities.”

Both Noah and Xiyanna have leveraged these opportunities into personal success.

Xiyanna is a double major, studying both Media Production and Film and Media Studies, minoring in Communications and working on a Deaf Studies Certificate. She has interned at CET and currently tutors, has a co-op at BRN Digital and is working on a research project with the Village Life Outreach Project. She does all this while helping her mother with her great grandmother and younger sister. (And don’t forget those freshmen.)

Like Xiyanna, Noah is extremely busy. He’s earning his bachelor’s and master’s degrees, serving in the Army National Guard, working part-time for Cincinnati Bell’s security team and preparing for a summer co-op with Lilly. But also, like Xiyanna, he makes time to help others. He takes younger students under his wing and is working with Combs to create the 1 to 1 Scholarship, the first Gen-1 Scholarship from students for students.

Seeing students like Noah and Xiyanna flourish at UC is why Dr. Cuppoletti supports Gen-1, he says.

“There is so much untapped potential out there, and there is a structural deficit,” he says. “I hope our small contributions are filling in the holes a bit.”

Combs says the doctors’ financial support has supported scholarships, student travel, graduate school test preparation and technology equipment. They are also generous with their personal time.

“They are present for our students. They attend celebration ceremonies and welcome dinners” she says. “This power couple has a deep understanding of the role that social, financial and human capital play in the success of first-generation students. Time and time again they have stepped up to lead the way to provide opportunities.”

For Noah, this means not only reaching his career goals but also helping his family.

“I’m seeing that college is giving me a lot more opportunities than others in my family,” he says. “It’s giving me the chance to give back, do things I want to do and help my mom and sister.”