Many universities offer countless student success resources and academic opportunities, but they may not be well-known to students. Certainly, efforts to raise student awareness and involvement in academic offerings exist, but research shows most universities do not advertise academic opportunities to students as much as social or extra-curricular ones (Ward, Siegel, and Davenport 2012). This oversight could impact marginalized or underrepresented students in detrimental ways because it leaves them on their own to navigate their undergraduate careers. Without prompting or support from an attentive faculty or staff member, impactful learning opportunities might fall completely under the students’ radar. I am a first-generation college student (FGCS) myself, and I remember an academic advisor noticing my strong academic record during a pre-registration meeting and asking me whether I had considered getting involved in undergraduate research (UR). At the time, I would have never imagined I could be a student researcher because I thought opportunities like that were only available to the highest-achieving undergraduate students, or those enrolled in graduate programs. If my advisor had not asked this simple question, I would have never gained research experience as a student and my entire career trajectory could have been very different.

I ended up doing UR with multiple groups on campus, and in some instances, participating in UR helped me earn some money in the form of research stipends, which I needed because I paid for my own education. My UR therefore offered a whole range of benefits, including financial incentives and strong mentoring relationships with prominent faculty members in my field. For students like me, it is extremely important that high-quality UR is mentored and often associated with financial awards (like Elon’s Summer Undergraduate Research Experience and travel grants). My UR helped me get into graduate school and continue the next step in my career. Indeed, academic opportunities like UR are often financially supported by the university administration, offer some financial assistance or awards, are led or directed by permanent staff and faculty members who possess significant social and professional capital to help advance students’ careers, and contribute significantly to persistence in educational attainment for marginalized or historically excluded students (e.g., Demetriou et al. 2017; Lohfink and Paulsen 2005). These academic experiences, which foster student engagement and learning, have been called high-impact teaching, learning designs, and practices for this reason (e.g., service learning, mentored undergraduate research, study away, etc.; Kuh 2008; Moore 2023), and offer countless benefits for students from all backgrounds.

Here at Elon University, faculty, staff, and administrators have recognized the importance of these high-impact academic opportunities and supports so much that meaningful engagement in at least one is a requirement for graduation. Called the Experiential Learning Requirement (ELR), each student is required to complete at least two units before graduation, which can be earned by engaging in mentored undergraduate research, leadership, global engagement (i.e., studying abroad or away), a supervised internship, or service/community-based learning. Making participation in ELRs a requirement was a wonderful way to increase student involvement in these high-impact learning opportunities. However, in my role as a faculty advisor, I have noticed many students have limited knowledge about these opportunities and struggle to know how to begin fulfilling this graduation requirement. In 2021, I realized that after students matriculated, there were no university-wide events designed to help students explore these high-impact academic opportunities (or the scholarships, financial assistance, or awards they are sometimes associated with) at Elon. It seemed like something could be done to fill in those gaps in students’ knowledge.

At that time, I was working with the former director of first-generation student support at Elon, Oscar Miranda, in co-developing and supervising a FGCS peer mentoring program (see Thurman and Miranda 2023 for more details). As part of our monthly programming for FGCS, we designed an event called the Scholarship and Opportunities Fair, which aimed to promote students’ awareness of high-impact academic opportunities and supports at Elon. While our sights were focused on the FGCS we were co-supervising from the beginning, we designed the event so it was open to all university students. The expansion of this fair was because it was the only across-campus event to our knowledge that brought together student support services, academic opportunities, and potential financial assistance or awards in one central venue to help students understand ways they could enrich their collegiate experience. We thought every student could benefit from this experience.

The Scholarship and Opportunities Fair started small but grew the following year. Recently in 2022-2023, I worked with first-generation student support services and Jessie Moore, the director of the Center for Engaged Learning (CEL), to conduct a FGCS Needs Assessment. Students who participated in those surveys and focus groups indicated they wished they had known earlier in their undergraduate careers about UR, developing and sustaining mentoring relationships, personal wellness, and learning general academic skills. But many of them also reported that first-generation student support services was helpful for them in building formal connections and mentoring relationships. We aim to continue this precedent with future iterations of the Scholarship and Opportunities Fair. With significant leadership and support from Elon’s Center for Access and Success, CEL, and Residence Life, this event has grown over the years, and the planning for a third-annual spring 2024 Scholarship and Opportunities Fair is now in progress. As done in the past, we are integrating ideas from Elon’s strategic plan, Boldly Elon, which aims to connect all students at Elon with faculty and staff mentors in the form of mentoring constellations (see Vandermaas-Peeler 2021 and Thurman 2024 for more details). Another feature of the event incorporates the Facilitating Integration and Reflection of the Elon Experiences (FIRE2) Toolkit, which aims to foster students’ self-reflection about their learning experiences and mentoring conversations to deepen their learning (see also: Moore and Miller 2023).

Ultimately, our goal for the Scholarship and Opportunities Fair is to help all students learn about the range of high-impact mentored academic opportunities (and the financial awards or supports associated with some of them) that are available to students at Elon. We hope attendees of the event will think intentionally and strategically about their undergraduate careers and leave the event with more knowledge about the next actions they could take to build mentoring relationships with faculty and staff, and how they can use academic opportunities at Elon to achieve their academic and professional goals.


Demetriou, Cynthia, Judith Meece, Deborah Eaker-Rich, and Candice Powell. 2017. “The Activities, Roles, and Relationships of Successful First-Generation College Students.” Journal of College Student Development 58 (1): 19-36.

Kuh, George D. 2008. “High-impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter.” AAC&U, Washington, D.C.

Lohfink, Mandy Martin, and Michael B. Paulsen. 2005. “Comparing the Determinants of Persistence for First-Generation and Continuing-Generation Students.” Journal of College Student Development 46 (July): 409-28.

Moore, Jessie L. (2023). “Key Practices for Fostering Engaged Learning: A Guide for Faculty and Staff.” Routledge & CRC Press.

Moore, Jessie L., and Paul C. Miller. 2023. “Igniting Mentoring Relationships with the FIRE2 Toolkit.” New Directions for Teaching and Learning 2023: 21–8. [Open Access]

Thurman, Sabrina. 2024. “Strategies to Improve Mentees’ Ability to Build Their Own Mentoring Constellations.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. January 2, 2024.

Thurman, Sabrina L., and Oscar R. Miranda Tapia. 2023. “Considerations for Designing and Implementing a First-Generation College Student Peer Mentoring Program.” Journal of First-Generation Student Success 3 (2): 143-53.

Vandermaas-Peeler, Maureen. 2021. “Mentoring for Learner Success: Conceptualizing Constellations.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University.

Ward, Lee, Michael J. Siegel, and Zebulun Davenport. 2012. “First-generation College Students: Understanding and Improving the Experience from Recruitment to Commencement.” John Wiley & Sons.

Sabrina Thurman is Associate Professor of Psychology at Elon University. As a first-generation college student from a low-income background, she is highly invested in working to increase access to higher education opportunities for historically underserved or excluded persons. She is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives that build belonging, while maintaining a strong sense of personal identity, and that improve experiences for all people of varied intersecting identities. She serves as a seminar leader of the 2023-2025 Center for Engaged Learning seminar on Mentoring Meaningful Learning Experiences.

How to Cite This Post

Thurman, Sabrina. 2024. “The Importance of Raising Student Awareness of Mentored Academic Opportunities, Financial Awards, and Scholarships.” Center for Engaged Learning (blog), Elon University. February 6, 2024.