Texas A&M University alumni Stephanie and Todd Routh have personally assisted employees’ and friends’ children apply to their alma mater, but said they soon became aware of challenges first-generation students face after watching some of them drop out.
The experience is part of what encouraged the couple to donate $2.6 million to the Texas A&M Foundation to support first-generation students. According to a Texas A&M Foundation press release, the endowment will start The Stephanie Duprie Routh ’93 and Todd Routh ’86 First Generation Program. The funds will go toward the recently established Texas A&M Office for Student Success’ efforts, including “learning communities” that connect students with mentors, employees at the office and the facility itself.
First-generation students are people whose parents have not earned a bachelor’s degree; they make up almost a quarter of the undergraduate population at A&M.
“Two of three students I helped with the college application process were accepted but later dropped out because they couldn’t find their footing,” Stephanie Routh said in the release. “They were seemingly swimming without a clear sense of direction in a sea of purpose-driven students. It is important to provide a safe place for first-generation students to share concerns that may not be relevant to the rest of the college population in order to help minimize these anxieties and redirect actions if necessary.”
Texas A&M associate provost for academic affairs and student success Tim Scott said in the release that first-generation students frequently have less of a sense of belonging on campus, which correlates with lower retention and graduation rates as well as longer time needed to earn a degree. He said that the university is working to close the gap with attention and resources.
Efforts such as learning communities, which currently include groups for first-generation scholarship recipients, connect students to campus and peer mentors and people with backgrounds similar to their own, according to the release. However, many first-year programs for first-generation students are for people whose families make less than $40,000 a year.
“Many students don’t receive such funding and may not have the opportunity to participate in a community,” Scott said in the release. “The Rouths’ generosity will allow us to serve those students as well. It will also help us build out high-impact student employment opportunities on campus in a student’s second year, and potentially create learning communities for students’ junior and senior years.”
The Routh endowment also will support the three current full-time employees in the Office for Student Success, the release states, the program’s facility and other programs that are developed to help first-generation students.
The two have been members of the Capital City A&M Club for two decades, and in the release they said helping with the organization’s scholarship application process showed them the needs of first-generation students.
“Being able to help guide their journey has been a wonderful journey for us, as well,” Todd Routh said in release.
The couple said in the release that they hope their donation encourages others to get involved as well.
“Education feeds the mind, makes you part of something bigger than yourself and creates a channel for each person to create change in the world,” Stephanie Routh said. “It is an equalizer.”
For more information about the Office for Student Success, visit studentsuccess.tamu.edu.