Local nonprofit helps first-generation college students succeed


UPDATE: Deadline is approaching to apply for trunk giveaway, which takes place August 10th at LSUS. Click here to apply.

SHREVEPORT, La. (KTAL) – Shandrea Lyons is a first-generation college student. She recently graduated from LSU Shreveport (LSUS) with a major in criminal justice. During her time on campus, she started the university’s dance line; held several leadership positions; and became the first black Homecoming Queen.

However, her happy ending started with a rocky beginning.

“I was really frustrated. It was really confusing and I felt really lost,” said Lyons. “Just getting to orientation, trying to figure out do I go right or left. A lot of it was just kind of figuring it out, Googling it, searching the school’s website until you find out what you’re looking for.”

While she had to be resourceful to get to the finish line, for her, quitting was never an option.

“I felt like my mom made so many sacrifices for our family that for her to get me to this point I can not let her down,” shared Lyons. “I cannot let those sacrifices be in vain.”

Not all college journeys in Louisiana end in success.

“What we have learned is that the state of Louisiana has among the worst college retention rates in the nation with only 50% of college freshman completing that first year,” said Kesha Simmons, Executive Director of YouToo, Inc.

That statistic is one of many motivations for Simmons who is a high school counselor. It prompted her to start the non-profit group YouToo, Inc. which helps first generation college students, and students with disabilities, transition from high school to college.

“Without that background of family support or that history of having someone in the family who graduated college, they typically don’t know how to navigate the college campus successfully,” said Simmons.

She has partnered with the LSUS Student Success Center, which started in 2016. Correy Hammond is the Director of the Success Center, a one stop shop for student support services.

“A lot of students coming here, I do believe identify as first generation college students,” said Hammond.

As a first generation college student himself, he understands the unique needs.

“When I got to my campus I wasn’t familiar about places to go to get help for academic support. I was really challenged with navigating financial aid issues.”

Hammond believes adding transition support  will be a good complement to the services his office provides.

“It’s just a great fit to help students navigate the college culture and to help them be anchored in to our campus so that they do well,” said Hammond.

Simmons says it’s important to start with the basics of making sure students have the supplies they need when they go off to college. She’s hosting a supply drive and hopes to give away 200 footlockers filled with college essentials to first-generation college students, who will be selected through an application process.

“We’ll collect data on them so that we can not only support them through the first two years of college, but also keep them tied to our community,” explained Simmons. “So when they do go off and get their college degrees, we can bring them back to help with some of the economic development initiatives in the city.”

Shandrea is from Monroe but remains tied to Shreveport. She has advice for Louisiana college students who may be considering giving up.

“Transition often feels like chaos and I’ve learned that a lot since being in college. However, it’s always light at the end of the tunnel.”

You can help local college students succeed by donating during the You Too, Inc. Dorm Supply Drive, which runs through July 19th. You can drop off donations at any local Barksdale Federal Credit Union location. Click here for more information on donating or how to apply for the giveaway.

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