A panel of University of Michigan students shared their experiences as first-generation students at the Power of Mentorship event Wednesday afternoon. The University Mentorship and First-Generation Gateway hosted the event, which is a part of a week-long celebration of first-generation students at the University.

Adan Hussain, the first-generation project manager in the Office of Multicultural Academic Initiatives, said the event aims to create a sense of community among first-gen students.

“The purpose of the first-generation program and first-gen week is to enhance students’ sense of belonging to the University of Michigan,” Hussain said. “(We want these students) to view their identity as something to be proud of, and also connect folks to resources when there’s obstacles students are facing.”

A panel of mentors, who are first-generation students, answered questions and shared experiences to give advice and build trust with mentees. 

LSA junior Trish Stichler said it is important for mentors to be accessible and be seen by mentees as peers rather than superiors.

“Something I have noticed that’s been helpful is being a mentor humanizing yourself very immediately and making them understand you are a mentor,” Stichler said. “You are not a person of authority. You are not a superior. You can start out honestly with the challenges that you faced because, to be honest, they are probably going to face the same ones.”

The panel discussed their approach to connecting to their mentees through virtual events. LSA junior Stephanie Hernandez said it is crucial to still have social events, even if they are held online.

“I really noticed with my mentees … (it) was really taking time for connecting socially so we’d have game nights,” Hernandez said. “Allowing people to take a break (from) academics and see people and humanize each other, I think is very helpful.” 

Some of the mentors said there were advantages and disadvantages with the virtual program this year. Rackham student Alma Orozco spoke about the limited ability to read social cues virtually, which she said motivates the group and herself to check in more often with their mentees and work to strengthen their own interpersonal skills. Orozco also said it is important for mentors to follow-up when mentees request resources to build trust.

Stichler said first-generation students often face unique challenges and providing support for younger students is important.

“The first-gen experience is often very intersectional … it’s not just that you are navigating a new space in your life, it’s that you are navigating that with other factors in first-gen lives,” Sitchler said. “I think a big part of supporting a first-gen student is recognizing and finding them where they are at and acknowledging all their stressors and trying to meet their needs, too.”

Daily News Contributor Ivy Muench can be reached at ivmuench@umich.edu

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