SPH Introduces Mentoring Program for First-Generation Students
Set to launch this fall, the program will assist students in navigating the complex, often unspoken systems of higher education.
The Graduate Student Life Office at the School of Public Health is launching a student mentoring program to assist first-generation graduate students at SPH in navigating the complex, often unspoken systems of higher education.
Recognizing significant gaps in campus-wide accommodations for first-generation graduate students—defined as those students who are in the first generation of their families to pursue an advanced degree—Ryann Monteiro (SPH’18), program manager in the Graduate Student Life Office, says she has been informally providing resources and support to these students over the last few years. As a first-generation graduate student herself, Monteiro understands these students’ needs and hopes that the more formal nature of the mentoring program will create a strong sense of community and connection among students, their peers, and SPH faculty and staff.
“Often, getting into school is the easiest part of the higher education process,” says Monteiro. “This program is designed to help students figure out what happens after getting accepted, the ‘what’ and the ‘how,’ as well as the non-academic factors that may affect their graduate school experience.”
Set to launch this fall, the pilot program is open to incoming, first-generation students at SPH, and mentor positions are open to faculty and staff who have also gone through graduate or professional programs as a first-generation student. Each mentor will be paired with three or four students in a “pod” based on the students’ needs and preferences across a range of demographic criteria, as well as degree and certificate programs and other areas of interest. Pods are expected to meet in-person or virtually once a month for group check ins, and one-on-one sessions between mentors and mentees will take place as needed.
Before meeting with their pods, mentors will also participate in a required training on the resources available to first-generation students across both SPH and BU, as well as on different mentoring styles and anticipated themes that may come up in conversations with their mentees and how to navigate them.
“It is our job as faculty and staff to provide our students with resources that will allow them to get the most out of their experience in their program,” says Monteiro. “We want to make sure that incoming first-generation students feel seen, supported, and valued on campus. This shouldn’t be framed as a deficient experience, but rather as a program to meet students and their needs wherever they are at.”
In addition to building community on campus, Monteiro hopes that this program allows students to define what success means to them.
“Often, we impose what we think success is on others, and it usually comes from a point of privilege,” she says. “The goal is to have faculty and staff create opportunities for their mentees that allow them to succeed in a way that is meaningful to them, whether it be research, advocacy work, or something else entirely. This will look different for each student, and that is okay.”
Monteiro also hopes that the knowledge and skills that students gain throughout their time in the program are able to extend beyond their time at SPH. From learning to set boundaries and developing a stronger sense of financial literacy to navigating difficult conversations in their personal and professional lives, she says these lifelong tools are essential for navigating the world long after they graduate from their program.
For faculty and staff, Monteiro hopes that—regardless of whether in a teaching or administrative role—they are able to become more informed and understanding of the lived experiences of students on campus.
“The mentor-mentee relationships that come out of this program are reciprocal, rather than transactional,” she says. “We all have a part to play in making our first-generation students feel valued on our campus, and we hope that everyone involved in the mentoring program walks away with more support and compassion for others.”
Faculty and staff can apply to be a mentor for the first-generation student mentoring program here. The mentee application for students will open soon.