As the number of first generation college students grows on campus, the First Generation Mentorship Program seeks to provide assistance and resources to this expanding niche of students. For this year’s freshmen class, 16 percent are first generation — a 3 percent increase from last year — and as USC seeks to diversify and offer opportunities for students from all backgrounds, this number should increase in the coming years.
Founded in 2008, the First Generation Mentorship Program aims to help students who may lack guidance or preparation for college by pairing them with alumni who were also first generation students.
“We really focus on professional development, so we do our best to pair students with alumni who work in their career fields,” said Gina Ibrahim, USC’s internship and diversity programs adviser. “We find that the basis of the program is having that common ground of understanding what it was like to be at USC as a first generation student and finding out what resources are available to you.”
The program is open to all first generation students, and they are encouraged to apply after having completed a full academic semester at USC. On average, the program fluctuated between 25 to 30 mentors each year. This year, the program saw a surge of some 60 mentors applying, 40 of which were accepted after meeting the required criteria.
Ibrahim notes an especially large increase in the number of Viterbi alumni applying for this year’s program. For the 2015-2016 school year, the program had four Viterbi alumni, and this year 19 will participate.
Employer relations and research director Jennifer Kim said she hopes the increase in interested mentors will lead to an increase in applications.
“You would think everyone would be interested, but it’s difficult to explain why more students don’t apply,” Kim said. “Otherwise, we would definitely try to grow the program.”
The program is targeted towards students’ professional goals and their intended career paths, exposing them to a mentor and a role model who can guide their development.
“As a first generation student, sometimes it’s a little harder to find a support system or to find the resources that are available to you on campus because you’re the first person in your family to go to college,” Ibrahim said. “Your parents or your older siblings might not have the information that you were seeking.”
The goal of the program is to form an organic mentor-mentee bond between alumni and students, Kim said. The Career Center also hosts monthly events between October and April that discuss resume building, networking and interviewing.
“We try to balance [the program] out by having some formal programming so everyone has sort of the same experience,” Kim said. “We’re hoping that organically they choose to meet up outside, to speak on the phone…We’re hoping that it just grows into a friendship, a mentorship.”
Mentors are asked to attend the monthly group meetings as well as put in extra effort to either speak or meet with their mentee throughout the academic year.
“We do ask a lot of [the mentors],” Kim said. “They’re really accommodating to the students…They’re going out of their way to physically be here [on campus] and to meet with them outside of the formal program.”
Currently, 13 percent of the USC undergraduate student body is first generation, according to the University.
“I think students sometimes don’t understand the value in having a mentor, and this is a good way to test the waters,” Kim said. “Then you can see the importance of a mentor-mentee relationship and what impact that can have on your academics, your personal life, your professional life.”