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Strategic Enrollment Management and Student Success

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Meet the mentors

VCU You First mentors are sophomore, junior, and senior first-generation college students who serve as guides to new VCU students who are also first-gen. Having learned to navigate college life, these students are excited to share their hard-earned “college knowledge” with others to help ease the transition into this new world. They know what it feels like to be brand new and they welcome questions and conversation of all sorts.

If you would like to be connected with a You First mentor, complete the matching survey. If you would like to become a mentor, read over the program description and requirements.

Aleena Milburn
Nursing, class of 2024

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
My favorite part about being a mentor is establishing a connection with each unique mentee. Meeting people from such different backgrounds, all with admirable strength and perseverance, really inspires me to continue advocating for first-generation students. Making connections is one of the most important aspects of success when navigating academic and professional worlds, and I am honored to be a part of the initial steps in the journeys of my mentees.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being a first-gen student allows me to serve as an inspiration and example for other first-gen students who may feel afraid of the obstacles they face. I value the support of my family in encouraging me to take this leap toward success.

Amala Thomas
Social Work, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy the opportunity to help students adjust to a new environment and offer them resources on campus.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value being able to relate to other first-gen students and developing a bond with them.

Angie Batista
International Studies with a concentration in International Social Justice, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy the mutual exchange that occurs with mentees. It’s nice to help them figure out this college thing, but it’s even more rewarding to learn things from them and to see the growth happening in yourself and in your mentees.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I feel like being a first-gen student has made me truly realize how resilient I am. I am more appreciative of the smaller milestones I accomplish because I know I am the first in my family to do it, and I know that when I do it, it shows my siblings that they can do it too.

Anna Chen
Mass Communications: Digital Journalism, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I am most proud about being able to empower the next generation of Rams to be confident and proud of themselves for all of their accomplishments, no matter how small.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I most value learning the meaning of hard work with the aspirations of becoming successful and giving back to my family. My parents were never given the opportunity to go to college after immigrating to America. They made the ultimate sacrifice to provide a better life for me; for that, I hope to give them a better life here as well.

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Ashley Williams
Health, Physical Education and Exercise Science, Pre-Med, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy helping those students who may feel lost or confused or have no idea what they are doing. I am excited to be there for my mentees. I can't wait to use what I have learned to make their experience a little less stressful.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value knowing that I am not alone no matter how confused or lost I feel. I like the challenge of not knowing what to expect because I know that I will be able to figure it out and get where I want to be--which is graduation.

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Avani Hariprashad
Medical Biology and Interpersonal Psychology, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy the opportunity to meet new people and share with them the things I have learned. 

What do you value about being a first-gen student? 
While being first-gen has been a struggle, we are a part of a strong community who is always willing to help.

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Brooklyn Morgan
Music BA, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy being a mentor because I can help mentees not make the same mistakes I did. I get to watch them find themselves and help guide them in their first steps of their college career.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being a first-get student, I value my resilience and my ability to see multiple points of view.

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Brutaja Ruffin
Social Work, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor? 
I love having the opportunity to meet new first-gen students like myself, getting to apply my leadership skills, and, most importantly, getting to be there for my mentees through their first year of college!

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value the collaboration that the first-gen students and mentors put forth to becoming successful. I value the integrity we hold in becoming our true self and being honest with the life decisions we take upon. Being a first-gen student is not easy but we work hard to have better opportunities for our future.

Bryan Leiva Hernandez
Biology, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I love being able to guide and teach someone the things I didn't know when I was in their shoes, to help motivate them, and to watch them to become successful individuals.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value the fact that being a first-gen student has taught me to become very responsible and independent and to value the little things. I’ve also learned to become more patient and to treat people the way I would like to be treated.

Catherine Ruiz-Romero
Biology with a minor in Chemistry, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I am most proud about being able to empower the next generation of Rams to be confident and proud of themselves for all of their accomplishments, no matter how small.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I most value learning the meaning of hard work with the aspirations of becoming successful and giving back to my family. My parents were never given the opportunity to go to college after immigrating to America. They made the ultimate sacrifice to provide a better life for me; for that, I hope to give them a better life here as well.

Cindy Sejas
Psychology, class of 2024

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy being a mentor because I get to help out others with questions I once had too. Also, being able to spread my previous knowledge of resources with mentees, so they can get the most out of their college experience.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I am very proud to be a first-gen student because I am the role model for my siblings.

Devante Spellman
Political Science & International Studies, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
The thing that I enjoy most about being a mentor is getting to experience that transition from a simple mentoring relationship to a multi-level friendship that comes with the benefit of a knowledge transition in both directions.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Some may see this as a burden but what I value most about being first-gen is that I got to deep dive into college with a clear and open mind. Because my family never had any experience with college, negative or positive, It became my "thing" that I was able to learn about, cultivate, and grow from.

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Faith Crawford
Chemistry, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I take comfort in the fact that we, as mentors, help guide our mentees to make their first year go a lot more smoothly.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Even though I was a bit scared when I first came to VCU, I love that, by being a first-gen student, I feel like I'm part of a family. We look out for each other. It's an experience that I don't think students who aren't first-gen get as quickly, because we have this niche.

Halle Crider
Psychology, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
My favorite thing about being a mentor for You First is being able to provide guidance to first-year, first-gen students. It makes me really happy to know that my mentees have the opportunity to use me a resource so they don't feel as alone or confused when navigating college.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
First-generation college students have perseverance like no other. I am convinced that we are unstoppable in our academic endeavors. We give everything our all, and through all our troubles we stop at nothing to reach our goals.

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Ivan Parada
Computer Engineering, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy being a mentor because it allows for me to serve as an outlet for advice in making any life choice easier. 

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I take pride in being a first-gen student because I’m setting a prime example for my family. I want to prove to them that I’m capable of performing more than their expectations.

James Forugh
Interdisciplinary Science, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I like to offer help back the way I received it when I was a mentee. I have been in a situation where I needed advice and there have been amazing people who provided guidance. Now that I am senior I want to be able to offer help to people that I once was like.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I like the enthusiastic attitude of first-generation students. We're so determined about what we want. As first-generation students, we aspire to break records and give reasons for others in our generation to follow in our footprints.

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Jasmine Witt
Chemistry, class of 2021

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I most enjoy being able to connect to other first generation students and guide them so we can help each other be successful. 

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value the power that we have to give hope to future generations of minorities to succeed.

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Jon Mirador
Interdisciplinary Studies, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I most enjoy helping to guide the process of self-improvement by creating a meaningful relationship, which can impact both the mentor and the mentee. It is greatly rewarding to be that person who I once needed. 

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value the sense of fulfillment that comes with every achievement. This is because as a first-gen student, it can be difficult to see the progress we make as we keep working towards our goals. It’s important to step back and see how just how hard we’re working, and that makes everything worthwhile.

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Jordan Gayle
Supply chain management, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy being able to speak to my mentees about my experiences at VCU. I like to give them advice about anything they are going through to help them become better students and to have a source of support on campus.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value that first-gen students are underdogs. We have to do more than the average student because of our background. It means we have a strong work ethic, perseverance, and a certain level of drive because we have something to prove. We have a lot of willpower and willingness to conquer adversity.

Jordan Jennings
Mechanical Engineering, class of 2024

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I love that I get to connect with other first-generation students, and that I get to learn from my mentees. A lot of people think that mentees are always learning from their mentors, but often times it's the other way around. Plus, having something in common makes the connection and conversation almost instant.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being a first-gen student has made me very aware of my opportunities and grateful for my education. Also, I feel that I'm very independent, as well as resilient, because of my first-gen student status. These are things that I think have improved my character and will help me in the future.

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Joy Luong
Mass Communication: Strategic Advertising, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
Being a mentor allows me to connect with so many first-gen students and have a community that understands the hardship first hand.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value the lessons that I'm learning as a first-gen student. Since everything we do is a first time for us, we become very resilient.

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Kali Delay
Interdisciplinary Studies: Crisis Intervention Specialist, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?

The best part about being a mentor is being an available resource for someone who needs it, no matter the circumstances. Whether it be for something extremely complex and confusing or something simple and straightforward, I find comfort in knowing that we don't have to solve our problems alone. There are so many great opportunities at VCU, and I'd hate for a new student to be turned away from experiences because they didn't know about them or how to approach it.

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Kayla Cleveland
Psychology, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy being the person I didn't have my freshman year. I was completely unaware that VCU had a program like this, so it has been truly rewarding knowing that I can be a helping hand in taking some of the weight off of my mentees during this difficult transition from high school to college.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
The thing I value the most about being a first-gen student is being the one to break the cycle and set a new standard for those in my family who will come after me.

Margaret Boateng
Pre-nursing, class of 2024

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I love being able to help my mentees through what I had difficulties figuring out during freshmen year. I enjoy their company and that they talk to me about anything. I love how my mentees have different backgrounds and cultures that I can also learn from. Everything about being a mentor is so cool and awesome.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being first-gen, I get to set the pace for my younger siblings, and I value that a lot. I also value the trust they have in me being the first person to have the college experience and that they can come to me for help.

Melina Campanilla
Chemistry, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I really enjoy getting to know my mentees and guiding them through the ups and downs that we all face as first-gen students. As someone who didn't have a mentor, I love sharing my past experiences to make my mentees more at ease with being at VCU.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being a first-gen student, I've learned to embrace the challenge of the uncertain future because this community encourages me to become my best self.

MyMy Huynh
Sociology, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
As a mentor, I enjoy being able to build connections with my mentees, giving them the support system they need and making sure they know I am here to help them within my abilities.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
As a first-gen student, I value all the opportunities I've been able to receive, and these opportunities have helped me grow and figure out who I am. I also value the people I've met because they've been extremely helpful and supportive.

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Raymond Velez
Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
Knowing that I am helping others grow and progress throughout their first year of college is something that brings a smile to my face! I strive to help others, and to me that is what being a mentor is all about.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I'm grateful that I will be able to show my family that we can get degrees and that college can be achievable. While I may be the first to go to college I know that I definitely won't be the last. I hope that by being the first of many I can inspire a generation of college graduates in my family.

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Savannah Cook
Nursing and Psychology, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I think back to when I was just coming into VCU, and all the mentors I had myself. I never could have made the transition to college comfortably without all the help I had along the way. As a mentor I enjoy helping other first generation students get accustomed to university life in any way I can.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value that I am the first of my family to pursue a higher education, and I hope that I can light the way for my younger siblings. I have found a population of students that feel the same way as I do, and I am so happy that we all can learn from each other.

Shayla Chaney
Forensic Science, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I really enjoy being able to help my mentees and to connect with them.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I feel really proud of myself for coming as far as I have.

Shritija Tamang
Communications, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
The genuine connection that my mentees and I have formed is the best part of being a mentor. I could talk about them for hours. The first few meetings solidified our relationship on an academic level, but as we continued meeting I felt like I was talking to my best friends! Seeing my mentees grow into the individuals they are now versus who they were when I first met them is what I will truly cherish when I think about my time being their mentor.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value the unique experiences that have resulted in the unique relationships between my peers and me. The resilience, perseverance, humility, and vulnerability it takes to be a first-generation student, amongst a large population of students who aren’t, is a particularly lonely feeling. I am so grateful I have found other first-generation students to bond with over our struggles and also celebrate our successes. My most comforting, personal bonds have formed because there is a level of relatability that is so unique to the first-generation experience. I realized this at a young age and I value it more and more as I get older.

Simone Smith
HPEX with a concentration in Health Sciences and Minor in Psychology, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy assisting first-year, first-generation college students with their transition into their new era of independence. The transition into college can be challenging and frightening. Therefore, I can assist in bridging that gap and serving as a support system for them to have a successful journey. In addition, I enjoy providing the required resources to support their academic and personal growth.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
As a first-generation student, I value my hard work, persistence, independence, and confidence. I am striving to earn my bachelor's degree as well as my master's. My journey thus far has not been easy, but I will continue to strive for success. I want all first-generation college students to know they can do anything they put their mind to.

Stanley Boursiquot
Supply Chain Management & Analytics, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I see this as an opportunity to grow as a leader, learning how to work with people who seek guidance and support and helping individuals determine their best path forward. It is rewarding for me to know that I'm making a difference in someone else's life.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
As a first-generation student, I value the chance to carve a legacy in my family that hasn't been done before and to take advantage of the opportunities my parents sacrificed for me.

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Summy Bari
Interdisciplinary Science, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy having the opportunity to help other students who are in a similar situation as I was in heading into college.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
What I value about being a first-gen student is my background, where I come from, and what it means for me and my family that I'm attending college.

Sunny Poudel
Psychology, class of 2021

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I love that I'm able to be a comfort to another student. We all know what it's like to feel overwhelmed and stuck, so being there for someone to let them know they're not alone is rewarding. I also love the relationships that I'm able to build and the encouragement I get from the mentee.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
I value my experience and perspective as a first-get student. Many of us have had to overcome challenges on our own, often making us excellent independent problem-solvers. Additionally, we understand the value of a great opportunity and know how to use resources to our advantage. I have learned to be kind, fearless and believe that I can achieve anything I put my mind to.

Sushma Chappidi
Biomedical Engineering, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy helping first-gen students find a sense of community within VCU, and being a resource my mentees can always reach out to.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being a first-gen student is an honor, but also comes with difficulties and obstacles. I enjoy overcoming those obstacles one by one and feeling confident that I can battle through them once I reach them. I also learned that there is a community here at VCU that takes pride in being first-gen. They welcomed me and helped me through many of these obstacles by being a resource and a friend to talk to.

Treasa Lung
Sociology, class of 2022

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy the connections I make with my mentees and seeing them gain self-confidence over time. There's also the sense of fulfillment from motivating others to do their best and sharing tips and tricks that I've learned from being a college student.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being first-gen has helped me feel comfortable being vulnerable and not knowing what's going to happen down the road, because I know that no matter what happens I'm going to figure it out and get through it.

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Vicky Nguyen
Nursing, class of 2023

What do you enjoy about being a mentor?
I enjoy being a mentor because it allows me to learn or improve skills, and I know I'm growing as a person because of it. I also get to meet new people which is something I enjoy even though I can be shy sometimes.

What do you value about being a first-gen student?
Being a first-gen student allows me to value the opportunity I have to be a college student when my parents never got the chance. I'm also grateful that being a first-gen student allows me to be independent, which is important in life.

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