Yale Daily News

A new student-driven initiative called Pathfinder aims to change the way first-generation, low-income Yalies chart their academic and social journeys at the University. 

An online roadmap of important deadlines, Pathfinder helps students curate personalized schedules that reflect their unique timelines and interests. Along with Summer Bulldogs, an internship matching program, Pathfinder is a relatively recent branch of 1stGen Yale, a network of diverse Yale alumni that supports underserved student communities at Yale. 

Development began in the summer of 2022, and the roadmap officially launched to the public in the beginning of the Fall 2022-2023 semester. 1stGenYale summer interns Tony Wang  ’25, Satia Hatami ’25 and Bernice Wong ’24 spearheaded the project under the guidance of 1stGenYale’s Vice President Michael Watson ’81. 

“Yale is incredibly generous in the opportunities that it offers — we are simply the bridge bringing you closer to these resources,” said Lise Chapman ’81 SOM, the president of 1stGen Yale. “[Pathfinder] isn’t a how-to guide to get into medical school or law school. Rather, it showcases the various tools that may aid in your exploration of yourself and the greater communities around you during your four years here.”

How to use Pathfinder 

Pathfinder combines a traditional, informative approach to decoding Yale’s socioeconomic curriculum  with more customizable components. 

According to Hami, Pathfinder solves the challenge of juggling the nuances and complexities of one’s college journey by condensing resources into one accessible place. 

When I first came to Yale, I wanted a way to organize [and] plan my next four years, but [Yale] didn’t have one,” Hatami said. “My friends at other schools like the UCs did, which made me think it was so odd for Yale not to — considering we are supposed to have really good academic advising services.”

Scrolling through the website, a user is met with a table of contents that takes them through their four years at Yale, as well as the summer before entering college and post-graduation. Displayed under every year and section of the timeline are resources, advice, programming and general requirements that cater to that particular year. 

For example, listed under “The Summer Before Yale” are the Online Experiences for Yale Scholars — or ONEXYS — and First Year Scholar programs, which provide academic coursework and support for incoming students hailing from underserved backgrounds. Meanwhile, the first year category is dense with resources that aid in one’s adjustment to Yale, including an introduction to peer liaisons, freshman counselors and college advising. 

“Entering and starting Yale can be one of the most challenging times for a FGLI student,” Wang said, emphasizing that information should not be taken for granted. 

Drawing from his own experiences as a low-income student, Wang  also prioritized casting light on the financial and professional aspects of a Yalie’s journey. Advice categories on Pathfinder include how to secure funding for summer fellowships, ask professors for job references, learn to network, prepare for interviews and take advantage of career development events at the University.

Pathfinder also offers personalizable spreadsheets that enable students to plan their schedules in six different categories: Academics, Involvement and Jobs, Undergraduate Fellowships and Awards, Postgraduate Fellowships, Graduate Schools and Programs and Post-Graduate Career. Students can create their own copy of these Google spreadsheets and utilize the sections that they find most appropriate to their Yale journeys. 

The spreadsheets work largely like fillable schedules or checklists, depending on the category. For instance, the Academics spreadsheet features a blank schedule for users to fill in with the courses that they are currently taking or plan on taking, as well as reminders about distributional and major requirements. The Fellowship spreadsheets showcase a catalog of opportunities, programs, study abroads and outside awards available to Yale students — while the Graduate Schools and Programs tab allows students to organize all the institutions they are interested in, along with important deadlines, requirements and other information. 

“A lot of faculty take their students on fully funded trips to go somewhere. But if you miss a deadline, that’s that — you can’t go on the trip,” Chapman said. “Pathfinder prevents the ‘I wish I had known about this’ or ‘I wish I hadn’t missed that.’”

Looking ahead, Wang and Hatami are excited at the prospect of more students finding out about Pathfinder and incorporating it into their planning. 

Pathfinder an example of an emerging and growing support FGLI Students

Pathfinder is part of a growing effort by 1stGenYale and other campus affinity groups to make Yale’s financial and academic spaces more accessible to underrepresented students, particularly those that identify as low-income, racial minorities or the firsts in their family to attend college. 

Chapman commended Wang, Hatami and Wong’s leadership, adding that there is value in students taking initiative as opposed to an authority telling Yalies what to do with their time at the University. Their leadership cultivates a sense of family, inter-peer relationships and trust at a place as simultaneously daunting and exciting as Yale, she said. 

This teamwork — this idea of “being a family for others” and the “shared experiences of being an underserved student” — remains one of the core values as 1stGen Yale, according to Chapman. Together with Magda Vergara ’82, she has seen 1stGenYale evolve into the rich and supportive alumni network that it is today. Despite taking pride in this continued progress and growth, however, Chapman said that she will always remember the organization by its collaborative origins. 

A few years ago, she read the New York Times opinion article “From South Sudan to Yale,” where columnist Nicholas Kristoff told the story of Paul Lorem ’15, who was orphaned at five  and endured an arduous road to receiving an education. The profile left a mark on Chapman, reminding her of her own childhood being raised by a single mother and the challenges that result when education, family responsibilities and socioeconomics collide. One day, as Chapman found herself lost on Hillhouse Avenue and asking for directions, she bumped into a young man who offered to help. It was none other than Lorem himself.

“We’ve been friends since,” Chapman said. “I still remember that day — I started crying when I realized that it was him.” 

After learning that Lorem was hoping to find a job in the agricultural industry, she connected him with fellow alumni who were looking to hire. This experience — as well a 2015 Halloween incident that lit the University aflame with debates over racial insensitivity and the cultural appropriation of minority identities — saw the creation of 1stGenYale as a safe place for people to share common experiences, “move forward together” and “create the versions of themselves that they are most proud of,” Chapman said.  

According to Chapman, part of this process is about knowing that there are people facing the same struggles — people who are also feeling Imposter Syndrome and finding themselves lost at crossroads — and another part is about taking a chance at individual passion and goals. The Yale journey is incomplete without both, she added. 

“This is where Pathfinder comes in,” Chapman said. “It’s a whiteboard — a notebook — for students to think ahead, be entrepreneurs … and run with their interests.” 

1stGenYale was founded in 2016.

Brian Zhang is Arts editor of the Yale Daily News and the third-year class president at Yale. Previously, he covered student life for the University desk. His writing can also be found in Insider Magazine, The Sacramento Bee, BrainPOP, New York Family and uInterview. Follow @briansnotebook on Instagram for more!