Notre Dame College Launches Mentoring Program to Support First Generation Students

Notre Dame College has launched The FirstGen Center, an innovative new mentoring initiative designed to provide support to undergraduates who are the first in their families to attend college.

“We take pride in being an opportunity college to help those who would otherwise not be able to go to college,” said Notre Dame College President Thomas G. Kruczek, himself a first-generation college student. “And I am incredibly excited about where we are going, about helping our students persist all the way to graduation.”

According to The FirstGen Center Director, Bill Leamon, the percentage of economically disadvantaged, first-generation college students nationwide who make it to graduation is very low.

“Only about 10 percent who start college go on to earn a bachelor’s degree within six years. In other words, nine out of every 10 fail to achieve their dream. Through a structured mentoring, we plan to make many more dreams come true,” Leamon said.

The FirstGen Center’s comprehensive mentoring program seeks to significantly boost graduation rates by providing resources, support services and a network of ‘first responders’ to help nearly 200 Notre Dame College students persist to graduation and successfully transition from college to career.


Some of the students in the inaugural FirstGen group will participate in a customized freshman seminar course focusing on succeeding in academics, building resiliency and leveraging personal strengths. The class will be taught by Notre Dame higher education experts assisted by community leaders with extensive training and experience in mentoring, advising and supporting at-risk youth. Huntington Bank will be providing financial empowerment coaching to all the program participants.

Along with the Jimmy Malone Scholarship Fund, Notre Dame is teaming with the Cleveland Leadership Center to provide personal and professional development opportunities for participating students. The community-engaged experiential learning will include participation in Cleveland Leadership Center’s (i)Cleveland programs. All are designed to connect The FirstGen Center students to cultural, community and leadership resources in Greater Cleveland, Leamon said.


Cleveland radio personality and mentoring program leader Jimmy Malone was one of the guest speakers at the launch event for The FirstGen Center held during Notre Dame’s Welcome Weekend for incoming freshmen. Malone is sponsoring the college’s inaugural class of freshmen, to be called Malone Scholars, and encouraged them to believe in themselves.

“Knowing that someone takes an interest in you because they care about you and because they believe in you is very important,” Malone told the students. “We want you to believe in yourself as much as your mentors believe in you.”

Malone has witnessed first-hand how mentoring can change lives. He and his wife April founded the Jimmy Malone Scholarship Fund in 1993 and have awarded more than 130 college scholarships to students with financial need. In addition to financial support, Malone and his wife provide mentoring to their students in the form of frequent calls, texts, emails and campus visits. The Jimmy Malone Scholarship Fund recipients have a graduation rate of about 90 percent, and the majority of their students graduate on time.

Also speaking at the launch event was Notre Dame alumna Aliea Moore ’15, who shared the inspiring story of overcoming challenging circumstances to become the first in her family to graduate from college.

Moore recalled working as many as three jobs to pay her tuition—including the night shift at a gas station—while taking a full load of college courses. Her family suffered hardships during that time as well: Both parents lost their jobs, and her grandmother and dog died.  

“One thing that never changed in the last five years is I had something to believe in,” Moore said. “We don’t all believe in the same thing, but we all believe in one thing. You wouldn’t be here today unless you believed in yourself.”

Since graduating with her bachelor’s degree in political science this spring, Moore has been working in Columbus with I Know I Can helping to build a mentoring program for Central Ohio students, many who are low-income and the first in their families to attend college. This fall, Moore will begin a prestigious fellowship with the Ohio General Assembly.


Among the many family and friends of the Malone Scholars in the audience during The FirstGen Center launch event were several upper-level Notre Dame students. These students, also the first in their families to attend college, will serve as peer mentors for the new undergraduates.

First generation sophomores, juniors and seniors who are in good academic standing can apply to become Malone Mentors. These peer mentors will be provided ongoing mentorship training and will be eligible for a stipend upon completion of at least 45 hours of program participation.

Additionally, a dozen Notre Dame faculty members, staff, coaches and alumni, several of whom are first generation college graduates, also will serve as mentors in support of the program.

Mentors and scholars will meet in the College's Falcons’ Nest campus student center every Thursday afternoon from 3:30-5:30 p.m. for informal mentoring sessions, including pizza provided by Michael Obi, the local franchisor of Little Caesars Pizza.


During the launch event the new Malone Scholars and Malone Mentors shared their dreams from the stage at Regina Auditorium—the same stage on which Notre Dame awards degrees during commencement.

Brandon Taylor, a human resources major in his junior year and a Jimmy Malone Scholarship Fund recipient, will serve as a peer mentor for a first generation freshman. Taylor said he has three dreams: to inspire others, be the best person he can be and achieve the highest level of success possible.

Several of the first generation freshmen in the program shared similar sentiments. One said her dream is “to help people for the rest of my life.” Another said he wants to be the best person he can be “physically, mentally and spiritually.”

Some of the scholars’ aspirations involve family. One student said he wants to buy his mother a house. Another said his dream is “to get ahead in the future so I won’t have to worry about my kids going to college.”

Most dreams were more career-specific. Goals included becoming a clinical psychologist, fitness trainer, accountant, social service worker, neonatal nurse, teacher, entrepreneur, pediatrician and Marine Corps officer.

Some students had even greater ambitions: to become the president of the United States and to be a professional baseball player.

Many said they simply wish to graduate from college.

“Those are beautiful dreams, each and every one of them,” Kruczek said.


Contact Bill Leamon at or 440.503.3126 for more information on the FirstGen Center. Mentors are always needed and opportunities to sponsor future FirstGen classes are available.


About Notre Dame College

For almost a century, Notre Dame College has educated a diverse population in the liberal arts for personal, professional and global responsibility. Founded by the Sisters of Notre Dame in 1922, the College has grown strategically to keep pace with the rapidly changing needs of students and the dramatic changes in higher education. But it has never lost sight of its emphasis on teaching students not only how to make a good living but also how to live a good life.

Today, the College offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines plus a variety of master's degrees, certification programs and continuing and professional development programs for adult learners on campus and online. Notre Dame College offers NCAA Division II intercollegiate athletic programs for men and women and is located in a picturesque residential neighborhood just 25 minutes from the heart of Cleveland. Hallmarks of the Notre Dame experience include stimulating academics, personalized attention of dedicated faculty and staff, and small class sizes.

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E.g., 06/24/19