First Generation Mentoring Enters 3rd Year

By Will DiGravio

On Oct. 13, the 2015 First Generation Mentorship Program launched with a dinner in Atwater Dining Hall. Now in its third year, the program is designed to help first-generation students adjust to life at the College. This year the program consists of 49 first-years, the largest group to date.

“[The program’s participants] are sometimes hesitant and unaware of things like office hours,” said Viviana Altamirano ’16, a first-generation student and the program’s director. “We cannot call our parents for help or insights on majors, classes or assignments. It is like living in a parallel universe on campus.”

Present at the kickoff dinner were 15 faculty members who identified as first-generation college graduates. The faculty advisers are a new addition to the program this year and are meant to serve as resources for students in the program. Additionally, the program assigns each of its first-year participants a student mentor. This year, a majority of mentors were former mentees.

“There are some things that they can’t ask other first years, and it’s very important to me that I’m there to help them get acclimated to life at Middlebury,” said Lev Khodaverdy ’17, a mentor and former mentee.

According to Zorica Radanovic ’19, a mentee, the mentors are available to “answer questions we don’t even know we have yet.”

“We are at one of the most affluent colleges in the country, and the assumption is that people do not expect us to be here,” Altamirano said. “Many first generation students get to colleges like Middlebury through self-reliance. When we encounter a challenge, we feel like asking for help is a sign of failure. Though Middlebury offers tutoring, advising and writing, we don’t feel entitled to this academic and emotional support… We hope this program changes that.”

For the past two years, the program’s structure relied mostly on individual pairings of mentor and mentees to establish their own relationships. Altamirano noted that the suggested meeting schedule consisted of bi-weekly one-on-one meals. This year however, the program hopes to organize more group events, with a focus on involving faculty.

In previous years the training session for mentors consisted of a single half-day session, this year the training will be split up into shorter yet more frequent sessions in collaboration with the Anderson Freeman Resource Center.