Meet the Scholars

First-gen college journeys: Edgar on finding your college family

Oscar Sweeten-Lopez on first-generation students: Peer mentoring is time well spent

One hour.  What can you accomplish in 60 minutes?  Could one hour of your day potentially change the course of a young person’s future? If so, consider what ongoing support and mentoring could empower a college student to achieve.

For years, studies have shown that first-generation college students struggle to adjust to life on campus and graduate with a degree in hand. However, research now proves the power of peer-to-peer counseling when it comes to increasing graduation rates of first-gen college students.  In fact, one recent study found that a “one-hour, next-to-no-cost” program that pairs first-generation students with college juniors and seniors “can close 63 percent of the achievement gap (measured by such factors as grades) between first-generation and other students.”

The Dell Scholars Program makes full use of the power of peer mentoring as one key element of our overall approach to students’ success. Since 2008, we’ve coached Dell Scholar Ambassadors to provide peer-to-peer support to others in the program as they overcome the obstacles of being the first in their families to pursue a college degree. Among the first-gen and low-income students we support, the six-year graduation rate is 78 percent, compared to the 19.9 percent of the scholars’ socioeconomic peers who graduate by age 24.

As part of a blog series addressing key factors in helping first-generation students navigate the transition to college life and stay on track to graduation once they get there, we asked current Dell Scholar ambassadors to reflect on their own experiences. The time they’ve spent mentoring their fellow scholars is definitely time well spent.

Current Dell Scholar Ambassador Edgar has devoted hundreds of hours to peer-to-peer counseling, as both a first-year student seeking insights from upperclassmen and now, as an experienced collegian who mentors other Dell Scholars.  Edgar has the below advice to share with first-gen college students.

[quote]Get out and about. Be open to meeting new people. Become part of something you can be passionate about.[/quote]

Edgar’s advice: Find your “college family”

As soon as you arrive on campus, find a community to be part of, especially if you’re attending school a long way away from home and your family.  Don’t lock yourself in your dorm room playing video games or reading a book. Get out and about. Be open to meeting new people. Become part of something you can be passionate about.

I attend a college 500 miles away from home, so I understand what it’s like to be homesick. Many students can relate to being scared and intimidated during their first year.  In fact, a lot of my peers who felt this way questioned whether they belonged at college at all.

My first semester at the University of Texas at Austin was a rough one.  Not only did I have to learn to adapt to a new city and campus, deal with apartment issues and improve my study skills; I had to learn to live alone outside the safety zone of my family home.  I considered leaving school at semester break until I became involved with a student organization on campus. Once I got involved and met other people, I finally felt like I belonged at my school.

Joining a student organization can offer many benefits. It’s a chance to connect with a group of people who share your interests and can be your support system. Organizations provide opportunities to help others and even energize you to excel in your classes.  Membership in these groups also provides leadership development and networking opportunities—often with people in your field of study—that can give you an edge as you enter the workforce and seek employment.

There are so many organizations and clubs to choose from on every college campus.  I suggest attending the informational meetings hosted by the groups that interest you most, then deciding which you’d like to join.  Look for a group of people you’ll feel comfortable spending time with, studying with and who will allow you to be yourself. They might just become your “college family.”

Edgar is from El Paso, TX, and became a Dell Scholar in 2009. He graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a bachelor’s degree in corporate communications and a minor in Spanish and business foundations.  Edgar recently ended his year long term as a Dell Scholar Ambassador where he led the management of student content on social media.