UC system launches program to provide 1st-generation students with mentors

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Forty-two percent of all UC undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college. Campus sophomore Neida Mendez is one of these students.

“There is a lot of pressure from family … because you are the investment to see if education works,” Mendez said.

This fall, the university is stepping in to offer mentorship to students like Mendez. Mentorship will be provided by UC faculty members who were also the first in their families to attend college.

This systemwide effort is set to begin during the first week of classes. About 900 faculty members from all UC campuses will wear buttons and T-shirts to show that they were the first in their family to receive a university degree.

All UC campuses will also host numerous outreach and visibility events throughout the fall to equip new first-generation students with tools and resources needed to succeed in college. As part of this new effort, the UC has launched a website to provide information for current and prospective first-generation students.

Thomas Gold, a campus sociology professor, said in an email that having a mentor with a familiar background who has faced similar challenges can help first-generation students confidently navigate the university system.

Mendez said she felt isolated upon coming to UC Berkeley and that not many people understood the struggle of being a first-generation student. She isn’t, however, alone on campus. An estimated 45 percent of incoming freshmen — about 16,500 students — across all UC campuses are first-generation students.

“Having a mentor will help just because you have someone to give you advice on your career, what to expect in college, and you will be able to connect with the same struggles and same pressure,” Mendez said.

Alexis Tran, another first-generation student and campus junior, also spoke about not knowing what to expect when stepping on campus and added that there is a lack of specific resources aimed toward first-generation students upon arrival.

The university hopes that new relationships between mentors and mentees will emerge through the increased campus presence of first-generation faculty, according to the University of California Office of the President spokesperson Stephanie Beecham. Beecham added, however, that there is no formal matching between students and faculty mentors.

“(This effort) is meant to complement existing programs for first-generation students that each of our campuses already have,” Beecham said in an email. “The hope is that students form connections with faculty as they’re introduced and get to know each other throughout the year.”

According to Gold, mentors provide “cultural capital,” which encompasses knowledge on everything from how to enroll in classes to engaging in a diverse community.

“Being smart is one thing; knowing what to know and how to deploy it is another matter,” Gold said in an email.

Ananya Sreekanth covers higher education. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @asreekanth_dc.

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