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Maia and Beatriz's 6 week project

For our project we are interested in investigating how the resources a student’s family is able to provide them affects their college experience. We will seek to answer this question for Bryn Mawr as well as colleges in general. We will specifically investigate data and accounts pertaining to first generation students and students from a range of economic backgrounds. We will contact the financial aid office and interview first, and non-first generation students. Each of us will take charge of investigating either the elements of the project relating to first generation or economically disadvantaged students. We are interested in this topic because of our personal experiences as well as our desire to spread awareness of potential obstacles facing students with more limited resources.

Elements of the college experience we are expecting may be impacted by the availability of resources from a student’s family are: Access to educational resources such as textbooks; ability to afford transportation and homesickness; stress; food and clothing, work, ability to participate in extracurriculars; a student’s level of motivation; and the pressure on a student to do well in school.


My interest in learning more about economic diversity at Bryn Mawr was sparked when I had a conversation with another student about financial aid and it hit me how uncomfortable we are talking about economic issues on a personal level. Maybe this is just a healthy sense of privacy- After all we generally don’t talk to casual friends or acquaintances about serious health issues or our religious beliefs either. And yet, it seems to me that privacy regarding personal finances goes even deeper. Unlike with the other two examples, we won’t even acknowledge our financial status to people who we suspect have a similar one. This seems strange because unlike many things we have a sense of privacy around, mental health, family dynamics, religion, financial status seems unlikely to directly reflect on us as people.

Reflecting on our sense of privacy around personal finances led me to wonder about economic “contact zones”. Financial status is a central part of  a person’s experience, and so to at least some degree, must affect a person’s interactions within a contact zone. But, unlike with other elements of experience, that in many cases are more externally apparent (race, gender, language differences) on a personal level this effect must go un-named because of the cultural norms around discussing personal finances. I am curious about what effect living in this “invisible contact zone” has on people.

This would be too hard of a topic to investigate directly for this project but I can investigate economic contact zones more in general- and what effect living in one has on the experience of students at Bryn Mawr College. I plan on contacting the financial aid office to acquire any data they have available on distribution of the financial status of students at Bryn Mawr, and aid given. I also hope to find data from the school’s history to see what changes have taken place. I will to some extent let what I find guide the project. Additionally I plan to research data on the financial status and aid given to college students nationwide. I will look for any personal accounts or articles describing students college experiences related to money and particularly contact zones.


Next we will also specifically look into the lack of resources that first generation students have either financially or academically, and how that affects their time at Bryn Mawr. For example some first generation students might struggle more financially, because their parents did not have the opportunity to go to college. Additionally, not only does not having parents without a college degree affect them financially, but they also the lack academic support. I will interview the students  by asking what resources they have available and which ones they wish they had. Then I  will ask them to describe their college experience such as their struggles and successes thus far. This will allow for a comparison between their experiences to determine whether specific resources affects their college experience.

After we have collected information we will summarize our findings by explaining commonalities in the experiences of first generation and economically disadvantaged students. By spreading information about these experiences we intend to raise awareness of potential obstacles facing students with more limited resources. Additionally, we hope to raise student’s awareness of their presence in a contact zone. This hope is founded in the belief that both first generation and no-first generation students can learn from each other's differences.



Anne Dalke's picture

Maia and Beatriz--
I’m appreciating the ways in which your different interests—in economically disadvantaged students and in first generation ones—will both dovetail and diverge, how the economic contact zone that Maya will explore will intersect with, but also be enlarged by, a range of non-economic issues (well, um, is anything not economic??) that Beatriz’s research will bring to the surface. And I’m esp. heartened by your commitment to “let what you find guide the project.”

It makes sense to me that Maia will begin her research by interviewing the Director of Financial Aid; less clear to me how she will gather historical data (from Fin Aid or from the library’s archives?), and also unclear just yet how she will select students for interviewing, esp. given her acknowledgement of our “privacy regarding personal finances” (maybe Jody, who has more experience with this sort of work, can offer some guidance here?). I’m not hearing yet how Beatriz plans to approach her questions; I’m sure she should be in contact with the new “First-Goers” club: and also probably interview someone in Admissions who focuses on this population (do they focus on this population? How do they go about recruiting them? What percentage of Mawrtyrs are first generation? What are their challenges, and what supports does the College offer to them?)