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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2019 The Next Carson Coug

Carson Edge Program Cuts
Through Barriers to Success

Story by Sue McMurray • Photo by WSU Photo Services

From left, Rigo Fernandez and Mikhaela Nelson meet with Carson EDGE advisor Stacey Smith-Colon.

For some first-generation students, getting to college is only half the battle. Their struggle may intensify once they enroll and are faced with an unfamiliar context of words, systems, and expectations they have no idea how to navigate. Even the most capable and promising students can fail to thrive in an academic environment if they don’t know how to utilize supportive resources.

Stacey Smith‑Colon, Carson Center for Student Success assistant director of academic advising, knows firsthand how this can happen, because it happened to her.

In second grade, Smith‑Colon decided to go to college after receiving a savings bond. In eighth grade, she earned a full-ride scholarship to any participating public college or university in Indiana. As one of the top ten students in her high school graduating class and a first-generation college student herself, she excitedly enrolled in Indiana State University with dreams of becoming a journalist.

But her first semester proved to be more daunting than anything Smith‑Colon ever imagined. The talented freshman became completely lost and didn’t know where to turn for help. She ended up dropping out of school and losing her scholarship.

The Carson Edge

The silver lining is that some 20 years later, armed with a college degree and several years’ experience directing university student support programs, Smith‑Colon is leading first-generation business undergraduates to success via the Carson EDGE program. The four-year program is part of The Next Carson Coug initiative to address the specific needs and barriers of students from low socioeconomic, first-generation backgrounds as they transition to WSU.

“Terms like ‘FAFSA,’ ‘registrar,’ or even ‘dean’ are like a foreign language to many first-gen students,” says Smith‑Colon. “If students don’t have contextual understanding, we can’t expect them to navigate or feel safe in the WSU system.”

Lots of first-generation, low-income students see a business degree as a way to help themselves, their families, and communities, Smith‑Colon explains. The Carson EDGE program helps them overcome barriers such as poverty and lack of a social network.

Carson EDGE students work with advisors and peer mentors to meet other students and faculty. They are paired with a business mentor and may participate in an undergraduate research project. They also work with Carson Center career consultants on internship placement, résumés, and cover letters.

Leveraging WSU Resources

The Carson EDGE program leverages other University scholarship programs such as Cougs Rise and University Achievement Award Scholars (UAAS), among others. Carson EDGE participants could receive up to $2,000 from a Carson College partnership with Cougs Rise, a WSU pipeline program offering pre-college programming to first-generation and lowincome high schools students in Washington state. Carson EDGE students may also receive $3,000 per year from UAAS and $3,000 per year from other Carson College scholarships.

“The most challenging things are financing my education and having financial literacy,” says Mikhaela Nelson, Carson EDGE participant. “Carson EDGE scholarships, financial aid events, and my mentor and advisor have been so helpful. I feel so much more secure about how I will pay for college.”

To learn more about supporting the Carson Edge program or other Next Carson Coug initiatives,
contact Jeff Pilcher, director of development, at 509-335-8906 or