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Mentoring Incoming First-Generation Students at the University at Buffalo

Tyler Richards, University at Buffalo / The Center / March 01, 2023

Two staff members in front of University at Buffalo step and repeat

Academic Affairs at the University at Buffalo (UB) is a collaborative division of university support services and programs that shape and enhance the educational experience for all UB students, from first-year students to seasoned PhD candidates. UB is proud to enroll a sizable first-generation student population, with nearly one in five incoming first-year students being the first in their family to attend college. This figure demonstrates the need for the university to focus on our first-generation population. That’s why we launched our Proud to be First initiative. Graham Hammill, Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, states “The initiative supports the academic, social, and professional development of first-generation students through summer bridge programs, peer mentoring, and other supports. The first-generation initiative is guided by several expert committees, which provide strategic guidance on program assessment, faculty participation, marketing and communications, peer mentoring, and programming. Through this collaborative approach, we are mobilizing and empowering faculty, staff, and students throughout campus to support our first-generation students.” To learn more about this initiative, visit our website here.

First-Generation Celebration Week

At UB we recognize and celebrate our first-generation students not only on November 8th (National First-Generation Celebration Day), but the entire week! The First-Generation Celebration Week is planned by a committee of individuals in both areas of Academic Affairs and Student Life. This collaboration across campus allows us to put together events to celebrate first-generation students in a variety of ways on campus! This past year we had events that ranged from a photo opportunity in front of our “Proud to Be First” banner in the Student Union to a first-generation student panel where first-generation students and faculty talked about their journeys in college. Our Proud to be First weeklong celebration helped to recognize and bring awareness to our first-generation students, staff, and faculty. For more information regarding our celebration week, follow this link.

Making the Transition

Creating a sense of belonging is integral to a student’s success and persistence at a university. Providing first-generation students mentorship can greatly increase their motivation, persistence, and engagement. Mentors are both a friend and a role model who supports and encourages their mentee in their academic and personal growth. A mentor helps in making a successful transition from high school to college, this transition is extremely important because this is the time that students are deciding how much they want or don’t want to achieve and or succeed. This premise led to us developing our First-Generation Summer Bridge/Peer Mentor Program to holistically support our incoming first-generation students.

Providing first-generation students mentorship can greatly increase their motivation, persistence, and engagement.

First-Generation Summer Bridge/Peer Mentoring Program

The Tutoring and Academic Support Services (TASS) center falls under the umbrella of Academic Affairs. TASS provides tutoring, academic coaching, mentoring and supplemental instruction to the entire undergraduate student population. Our First-Generation Summer Bridge/Peer Mentoring Program is housed within our TASS Center. This program is for incoming first-year first-generation students to aid in the transition from high school to college and to foster a greater relationship to campus resources. For more information about the program, visit our website here.

Students who opt into the program are offered to enroll in a free virtual course over the summer. The course is SOC-204 (Social Justice), and it is a five week-long, three credit course that counts towards a student’s Diversity Learning requirement for the UB Curriculum. The summer bridge class helps prepare students for college level classes and provides students an opportunity to get a head start with their curriculum free of cost! Aside from the summer bridge course, students attend weekly success workshops hosted by a staff member in our TASS Center. These workshops consist of topics like time management, organization, college terminology, test taking, study skills, and much more. These workshops aim to build a foundation for students to have a successful first semester and beyond.

Peer mentorship offers students a personal point of contact on campus and a home base.

Peer mentoring is an extension of the First-Generation Summer Bridge program, the program gives students a fellow peer connection as they begin their journey at UB. Being first-generation can create a lot of questions and lead to confusion and lack of engagement. Peer mentorship offers students a personal point of contact on campus and a home base. Students who opt into the program will receive a peer mentor who connects with them over the summer before fall semester begins and will work with them their entire first year. Peer mentors are trained based on the College Reading and Learning Association (CRLA) guidelines. Peer Mentors can obtain CRLA Peer Educator certification by working through our program and attending supplemental trainings. Students and mentors are paired up focusing on a variety of similarities such as interests, location base and majors from both mentor and mentee input. Peer mentors help students transition into their first year by serving as a guide, they help answer questions and refer to services when necessary. They also help our first-year students make connections across campus which helps with sense belonging. The types of questions that can be asked could range from; What should I bring to campus? Or where can I go to talk to someone about my financial aid? Sometimes students may not even know what to ask, but mentors can help guide the conversation to figure out what their students need. Mentors utilize the knowledge they’ve gained throughout their college journey to inform their interactions with students, helping them maneuver those same obstacles with more ease. Below are a few quotes from students talking about their mentors:

“My mentor went above and beyond when they reached out to me and made me feel included.”

“My mentor always reached out and asked if I had any questions and really connected with me. I am glad that I was able to have someone who I can reach out with any questions or concerns. They give me more knowledge and make me feel a part of the UB community!”

“I thought my peer mentor was very nice to me and was very supportive of my ambitions. He had helped me engage with the community and even helped me gain connections. I recommend peer mentors to freshman.”

For more information on University at Buffalo's approach, please visit their website here.