yaledailynews

When Vanessa Cheng started her first year at Yale earlier this month, many questions weighed heavily on her mind: What classes should I take? How can I manage my time? What Yale College resources should I use?

Last week, Cheng discovered the newly expanded first-generation, low-income peer mentorship groups — a program designed to help answer these questions. The program was founded last year exclusively for first-year students but was expanded to include sophomores as well. Potential students are identified through a list provided by the admissions office and sent an invitation to the program.

The peer mentorship groups are a part of the FGLI Community Initiative, a collaboration between the Yale College Dean’s Office and the Poorvu Center. The groups, which each have five students, were created to help navigate the “hidden curriculum,” the social expectations and norms that often go unsaid at elite institutions, according to the peer mentorship groups’ website. 

“As a first-generation student, I have very few experiences to refer to,” Cheng said. “There’s a lot of small questions that I’m afraid of asking because I’m worried. What if I come off as someone who’s just really silly?”

This year, the program was expanded to sophomores in hopes of providing community while the class of 2023 is away from campus. Besides connecting students to academic resources, mentors advise students as they choose majors and make summer plans. Compared to last year, the program has more than tripled in size with 271 students placed into peer mentorship groups, compared to approximately 80 students last year. 

The FGLI peer mentorship groups originated out of a desire to expand the First-Year Scholars at Yale summer program into the school year — both focus on community building and offer an introduction to resources provided by the University. Each group of five is composed of a mix of students who participated in FSY and those who did not. Groups are led by upperclassmen Academic Strategies Mentors who also identify as FGLI.

In meetings, which occur twice a month, mentors spend the first 20 minutes introducing students to campus resources or presenting curricula that the program provides. Topics include Yale Health and Safety Net, homesickness, navigating financial aid and pre-professional development. Students also have the chance to raise their own questions and talk about other challenges they face.

According to Jorge Anaya ‘19, the coordinator of the FGLI Community Initiative, groups are meant to do more than pass along information. The FGLI-specific groups foster community, and peer mentorship highlights the “social capital” each student has and their ability to spread knowledge. 

Anaya went on to add that students often do not realize they have social capital because “it’s seen as a given.” Anaya said that FGLI students must “stick together.” 

“We have to share knowledge, but students already carry knowledge, and that’s something worth sharing,” he said.

The program has been more popular than expected. When the FGLI peer mentorship groups opened to sophomores this year, Karin Gosselink, co-supervisor of the program, expected about 60 students to sign up, she said. Instead, over 135 sophomores requested to participate.

“That really shows students that the kinds of questions and experiences they have are not just isolated to them,” Gosselink said. “They are things that everyone goes through.”

The program has placed every student who expressed interest, but due to overwhelming popularity, mentors have had to take on more responsibility than anticipated. The program hired additional mentors to help with the sophomore influx, and most mentors work with at least two groups. 

Apart from the FGLI peer mentorship groups, academic peer support is available to all students. Resources through the Academic Strategies Program are also available to students year-round regardless of FGLI identity or ability to participate in the programs.