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New Office Connects Low-Income, First-Gen Students

Student Enrichment Services (SES) message to students: “You’re not alone”

A year after its inception, Northwestern University’s Student Enrichment Services (SES) has a message for low-income and first-generation students.

“You’re not alone,” said SES Director Kourtney Cockrell, noting that 14 percent of Northwestern’s undergraduate population come from low-income backgrounds.

The office of Student Enrichment Services produced a video featuring observations and insight from Northwestern students and staff on how to successfully transition to life as a college student.

Northwestern University Executive Vice President Nim Chinniah, with a personal piece of advice, is among them.

“For me, coming to college was a life-saving kind of move,” says Chinniah, whose college career served as a ticket out of his home country, Sri Lanka, at a time of civil war. “Every indication is that I shouldn’t be where I am today. When you come to a place that’s different, (it’s) tempting to run away from who you are. My advice is don’t do that. (Who you are) is what defines you.”

“The University community is made up of people from all walks of life, and everyone brings their own individual set of life experiences to Northwestern,” Chinniah said.

Students who are the first in their families to attend college and those who set out on their college journey with a severely limited budget face unique challenges that can be isolating.

Northwestern offers various resources to help ease the transition. The SES office was created in 2014 as a “first-stop shop” to connect students with programs that might otherwise be more difficult for students to track down.

Charged with providing support — from emergency loans to warm winter coats and loaner laptops — and connecting students with peers and mentors to whom they can relate, SES is committed to making Northwestern a home away from home for the entire University community.

SES added three new programs this year:

  • Financial Wellness, launching in the later part of fall quarter, will teach students the essentials of understanding finances and financial aid.
  • The SES Common Application will provide students with funding to participate in co-curricular activities, including joining a fraternity or sorority, going on an Alternative Student Breaks (ASB) trip or purchasing professional attire through a single application process.
  • A peer-mentoring program will pair four juniors or seniors with low-income and first-generation students to meet on a weekly basis and provide a comfortable, social space.