Cardinal Connections, a new mentorship program for First Generation, Low-Income (FGLI) students, launched its pilot program
this semester. Founded and directed by Wesleyan Student Assembly senator Ariana Baez ’22, the program pairs upperclassmen mentors with incoming first-year mentees. Mentors are there to share resources with their mentees and help them transition to life at the University. Mentors are paid with funding from the FGLI Advisory Board and will receive training through a mentorship course taught by Baez and FGLI Advisory Board Director Gabriela Harris ’23.
The program aims to address the challenges faced by FGLI students entering a wealthy, predominantly white institution. By sharing resources and learning about the lived experiences of upperclassmen, Baez hopes to make the college easier for first-year FGLI students.
“I wanted to create a mentorship program with upper-class FGLI students with their lived experiences of surviving, transitioning, and succeeding in a wealthy, predominantly white institution,” Baez said.
Cardinal Connections is designed to establish peer to peer connections that will help students gain confidence and a supportive network of students.
“I do think that peer to peer connections really go a long way, and then those connections could also transfer to friendships and networking connections for the future,” Baez said.
Baez emphasized the importance of hearing from someone with shared lived experiences, something that is especially crucial during the COVID-19 pandemic when many feel isolated and overwhelmed with amplified challenges and inequities. With so many unknowns surrounding the start of college, especially for incoming FGLI students, Baez wanted to ensure they had upperclassmen to connect with.
For many mentors, the desire to pass along the knowledge they have gathered over the years was a key motivator for joining the program.
“I think the cardinal connection is a rewarding way to contribute to the Wesleyan community,” mentor Shayla Zhen ’23 said. “When you think back [to] your Freshman year, it would have been nice to know someone who can give you advice and be your friend.”
Mentor Ricardo Vega ’21 echoed the importance of having someone to relate to. For many FGLI students, transitioning to
college alongside managing multiple roles as a student, worker, and family provider can be challenging to navigate.
“Wesleyan was such a culture shock to me when I first came,” Vega said. “I came from a low-income community, and over
90% of the student population at my high school were students of color. Wesleyan was the complete opposite of that, so I felt really isolated and alone in my first year because it was hard to meet anyone, especially upperclassmen, who I could relate to. I’m glad this program allows students to connect with people who are FGLI and help them navigate the strangeness that is coming to Wesleyan. I just want to be a friend and resource to my mentees so they don’t feel they’re alone in their transition.”
Mentee Melanie Garcia ’24 has been able to learn more about the University’s resources through the program.
“Cardinal Connection is a very informative source,” Garcia said. “I am up to date on Wesleyan’s COVID protocols as
well as fun, virtual events on campus.”
Baez noted that while these peer-to-peer connections are crucial in helping FGLI first years, there is sometimes a detrimental expectation that FGLI students take on these community-building efforts without monetary compensation for their
work and time.
“FGLI students are expected to do all of the work and carry the burden of these community-building tasks without any monetary compensation,” Baez said.
Because of this, the FGLI Advisory Board will pay mentors $150 for working with one mentee and $250 for two mentees per semester, in addition to receiving .5 academic credits. Along with monetary compensation, mentors will take a mentorship course taught by Baez and Harris. The course will teach mentors leadership and communication techniques, with the goal of making them more effective resources for their mentees.
Baez hopes that the program will continue in future years and that it will become a more permanent fixture of support for FGLI students at the University.
“I want it to be like an ever-cycling program, something that’s institutionalized and continues after I leave my position.” Baez said.
Katarina Grealish can be reached at email@example.com.