Roughly 50 students and faculty members gathered in the Kirkland Junior Common Room Thursday evening to inaugurate the Undergraduate Council’s First-Generation Faculty Mentorship program.
UC President Sruthi Palaniappan ’20 and Vice President Julia M. Huesa ’20 established the mentorship program over the summer to support students who identify as first-generation college students in connecting with faculty, according to Palaniappan.
The duo plans to collaborate with Primus, a student organization representing first-generation and low-income students, as well as new pre-orientation program First-Year Retreat and Experience, to support students with diverse backgrounds.
Throughout the event, faculty and students participating in the mentorship program mingled while dining on finger foods and refreshments. Many students also met one-on-one with their faculty mentors during the event.
Several students in attendance lauded the faculty mentorship program, saying they appreciate the guidance their mentors provided them.
“I think it’s a great way to connect first-gen students with people who actually work here,” Lara van Rooyen ’23 said. “I feel like first-gen students might not know how to form relationships with their professors. Now, I already have someone who’s trying to help support me.”
Palaniappan and Huesa said former UC representative Mai-Lin Ton ’19 inspired them to support first-generation students more actively, as Ton was a great supporter of first-generation students.
During Ton’s time on the council’s education committee, she compiled a list of faculty members who were themselves first-generation or allied with that community. Many of the faculty, including Stephen N. Chong, co-director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Computer Science, joined the mentorship program this year.
Palaniappan said that many of her and Huesa’s conversations with first-generation students on campus specifically identified a difficulty in connecting with faculty members.
“A lot of them had noted to us the challenges that the community particularly faces in being able to connect with these upper-level faculty members and having more personal, meaningful conversations with them when it often seems that the only space in which you’re able to connect is through office hours,” she said.
While recruiting faculty mentors, the duo said they contacted faculty members who identify as first-generation or as allies of the first-generation community.
“We know that that was something that is also really important especially at a place like Harvard where a lot of people might not always see themselves reflected in the different institutional aspects that have remained here for quite so many years,” Palaniappan said.
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