UC system launches mentorship effort for first generation students

JEREMY DANG / AGGIE

First generation students make up 42 percent of entire UC undergraduate population

On Aug. 23, the University of California announced that all ten of the UC campuses will participate in a campus-wide campaign to pair first-generation students with first-generation faculty members who will serve as mentors. The universities will also provide these students with increased access to valuable resources to help them succeed in college.

According to a statement released by UCOP, around 45 percent of incoming California freshmen will make their mark as the first in their families to pursue a degree from a four-year university. Additionally, across the UC system, first-generation students make up around 42 percent of the entire UC undergraduate population.

“As a first generation student, […] my first year of college was challenging and it continues to be,” said Monserrat Rodriguez Ortiz, a second-year theatre and dance major. “I feel that part of this was due to the lack of support that us first-generation students receive. From personal experience, I know that oftentimes I wish I had someone to talk to and express my concerns or even just share the hardships that I was undergoing.”

To address the concerns that Rodriguez Ortiz and others may share, around 900 first-generation faculty members across the ten campuses have signed up to assist with the effort and serve as mentors. During the first week of classes, the staff members will wear identifiable T-shirts and pins showing that they are the first in their families to graduate from college. These new efforts will also expand upon programs already in existence at each campus –– providing counseling, advising and assistance as well as networking opportunities to first-generation students.

“It’s great that UC Davis is providing extra support for first-generation college students with much-needed counseling,” said Brian Trat, a fourth-year chemical engineering major. “If these students are anything like me, then we come from a low-income family where we are the only competent English speaker. I had to learn to navigate my financial aid situation all by myself. Taking out student loans and figuring out long-term repayment plans was something I wished I had help with as a financially illiterate freshman.”

To start off the mentoring and outreach effort, the UC published a new report, “First-Generation Student Success at the University of California.” The report examines how the UC system plans to help first-generation students, including goals of outreach and preparation for college as early as middle and high school. It also details the level of support these students receive on their respective UC campuses.

The UC also launched a website, firstgen.universityofcalifornia.edu, to assist both “current and prospective first-generation UC students.”

“Educating first-generation students is a big part of what this university is about,” said UC President Janet Napolitano in the UCOP statement. “When faculty members identify themselves as mentors who have experienced many of the same circumstances and challenges, it creates an environment where students are more comfortable seeking guidance.”

The UC system currently enrolls more first-generation students than similar university systems nationwide. According to the UCOP statement, 81 percent of UC first-generation students “graduate within six years,” which is much higher than the national average of only 60 percent of first-generation students who graduate within six years at other universities.

“Being in a program that connects me to [people] that have gone through my same struggle makes all of the unfamiliar difficulties ahead of me seem a little less daunting” said second-year mechanical engineering and aerospace science engineering double major Dominic Phillips. “Ultimately, I’m attending the best university for me and I’m incredibly grateful for that.”

Written by: Clara Zhao – campus@theaggie.org