Helping first-generation, low-income students feel at home

Earlier this semester, Penn kicked off its First-Generation Low-Income (FGLI) Program. The first of its kind at the University, and only the second among Ivy League institutions, the initiative works to provide an engaging environment for students from low-income backgrounds who are the first in their families to attend college.

Housed in the Greenfield Intercultural Center (GIC), which is part of the Division of the Vice Provost for University Life, and working in collaboration with student organization Penn First, the FGLI Program addresses self-identifying low-income, first-generation students’ academic, personal, and social transition needs, while facilitating a sense of belonging within the University.

But, its agenda won’t see major success without the Penn community’s efforts, says Isaac Silber, coordinator of the FGLI Program.

“It’s one thing to have a space that’s here for any student that self-identifies as first generation and low income,” Silber says. “But it’s another thing to make the University as a whole a space that’s welcoming. That means alumni, staff, administrators, and faculty should be involved in creating a more inclusive, welcoming, and safe environment.”

That’s why the FGLI Program is holding a lunchtime meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 22, in the Greenfield Intercultural Center, 3708 Chestnut St., for Penn staff, faculty, and alumni who want to get involved with its already-established initiatives, and brainstorm new ones.

For instance, the information session, taking place from noon to 1:30 p.m., will address ways for the Penn community to donate to, partner, or volunteer with the food pantry, which is stocked with canned soups, uncooked pasta and sauce, rice, cereals and oatmeal, granola bars, and more. Low-income students can pick up goods in the GIC’s kitchen on its first floor, which is also open for all students’ use.

“Any student who feels they need it can have access,” says Silber. “Our main priority is making sure students feel secure and don’t feel stressed out about how they are going to eat. They have enough going on with schoolwork and clubs.”

Additional items planned to be discussed at the meeting are how to garner volunteers to organize the donation-based textbook library, which is located on the third floor of the GIC, and also how to best implement a program that can help low-income students far from their families get home-cooked meals from time to time, especially around the holidays.

Anyone interested in getting involved with the GIC, the FGLI Program, or Penn First, but can’t make it to the meeting, can contact Silber at, Valerie De Cruz, GIC’s director, at, or FGLI's graduate intern Hulya Miclisse-Polat at

For more information, visit the FGLI Program’s website.

Penn First