November 25, 2014

First-generation mentoring program to launch in January

First-year, first-generation College students will now have the opportunity to participate in a mentoring program beginning in January. The program, called the First-Generation Mentorship Program, will be run by the Office of the Dean of Students. It will match students with alumni from the past 15 years who were first-generation students themselves.

Director of College Academic Support Services Jacqueline Gaines will help run the program; this program is also a part of the College Academic Achievement Program (CAAP), a pre-orientation and supplementary program for incoming first-year students. However, the First-Generation Mentorship Program is not limited to CAAP participants. Gaines says that they are currently in the pilot phase for this program, and her offices and others have been working on this project for nearly a year.

“We came up with the idea at the end of last year when we were talking to a focus group of first-generation and low-income students. They requested some sort of program like this, so it was a student idea. We worked with students and staff…to flesh out the details,” Gaines said.

The goal of the program is to create a network for students who might not necessarily have this type of support because of their socioeconomic background or the educational background of their parents. The students will be able to rank their preferences from a pool of mentors based on career interests.

“[The students] wanted an opportunity to connect with other people who have gone through the college who have had a similar experience as they did in navigating the resources here, but then also to serve as their first professional network, too,” Gaines said.

Fourth-year Danielle Wilson is co-coordinator of the Socioeconomic Diversity Alliance, an RSO that she says helped initiate the mentoring program. Given her own experience, students from low-income or first-generation families often need support after they have matriculated, she wrote in an e-mail.

“Many who are the first in their families to go to college find institutions like UChicago to be intimidating places for more reasons than one. Being able to ask a mentor—someone who comes from a similar background and has potentially faced similar challenges—about how to go about navigating a university would [be] an invaluable opportunity,” Wilson said.

The application for both mentors and mentees is due December 12, with the official program kickoff occurring a month later. Then, mentors and mentees will meet once a month until June. However, Gaines hopes that the connections they form zwill last much longer.

“Hopefully these connections can start here but will continue and turn into informational interviews, or internships, or whatever professional networks turn into in the long run. Creating that basis in their first year is really important,” she said.