From Mentee to Mentor: A Dual Perspective as a First-Generation Student

12-04-2023 03:00 PM
New Contributor II
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Meeting Jocelyn


My name is Jocelyn Torres, I was born in Indio, CA, I spent most of my childhood growing up in a town called Desert Hot Springs. Desert Hot Springs was known as the “Windy City” by the three mountain ranges that surround the Coachella Valley and low atmospheric pressure. When it comes to education not many have the opportunity to see beyond those mountains. My dad is from Puebla Mexico, and my mom is from Washington. I am the middle child of three girls. I have a stepbrother who is 13 and a stepsister who is almost 18. My first language is Spanish, and I am first generation, the first in my family to reach college.


Now, I am now a junior at The University of Redlands (UofR), paying it forward to amazing people I have met throughout my time here. You may ask, how exactly did I get here? Before I get into that, the word first-generation holds a lot of power as it has always been important to me. It’s been a part of my process as a mentee and now a mentor.


Becoming a Mentee to Get College Ready


To many people, the definition of first-generation means being the first person to ever go to college within their family. While that is true, to me and many others who have been impacted by the power of mentoring, it’s much more than that. Getting college ready for me, I didn’t know what to do or how to get started. I learned on my own how to apply for federal student aid (FAFSA) and write essays for grants, scholarships, and admission to college. This was a stressful time since I couldn’t lean on my family because they didn’t know what to do. My parents had also separated when I was 15. That made it much more difficult to ask them for college aid.


Through my own research in high school, I uncovered a program called SMART (Student Mentor and Resource Training) that was offered at Desert Hot Springs High School. The program required meeting every Wednesday with an assigned mentor to help prepare for college. This is where I met Dr. Jan Alden, who not only would be my mentor, but a lifelong friend and an inspirational woman.  Meeting Jan, I'd thought that we would have nothing in common considering our large age cap and different cultural backgrounds. She was a thriving Chiropractor doctor, and I am a young Hispanic woman from a lower socioeconomic background. As time passed, Jan would eventually show me how to write essays for scholarships, complete my FAFSA, and apply for schools. She would also meet my family and we’d attend events together, and she would be the reason that I now attend the University of Redlands. Although I did not have that level of support from my family, it was the support of my own mentor that I attribute to successfully transitioning into my college career. She is not only my mentor, she is my educator, support system, and lifelong friend.


 (Left) High school graduation day (Right) Going away party for being accepted into University of Redlands


From High School to College Student


UofR was my top school, and a part of me knew I was meant to be here. As senior year was coming to an end, I began to wonder if college was even for me. I began to overthink and stress financially. I knew neither my mom or dad would have the proper funds for my education. I also felt very pressured to succeed in attending school because I was the first person to even look at a college application. I concluded that UofR was for me but when I had the money for it. With that, I concluded that if I attend community college for two years, that would allow me time to decide what I wanted to do.


When I told Jan the news over the phone, she refused to accept it and told me she would get back to me. Jan, as a mentor from the start, always reminded me how much value I held. She saw a lot of potential in me and wanted me to attend a university. She made many calls within SMART, and they were able to completely cover my first two years of college. This was life changing for me! I was in tears and at loss for words because Jan and others saw so much potential in me that they gave me an opportunity to attend UofR at no cost.


Finding a Mentor as a Freshman in College


My freshman year of college quickly arrived; over the summer they had invited me to attend this summer program called Summer Bridge. Summer Bridge was created for first-generation students. Many first years were invited to arrive at the UofR a week early to get a sense of what college consisted of before school began. This was an opportunity for us first-generation students to meet other first-gen students and to truly connect and celebrate being the first to attend college. The people leading the program were all students and later they would become our mentors. Once school had officially begun, I joined a class called STEP (Students Together Empowering Peers). In STEP they assign you a mentor based on your Major interest. At the time, I thought I wanted to major in biology because I wanted to be a veterinarian. I quickly discovered that I was not a STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) type of gal.


Through STEP, I was assigned two mentors: a man named Alex, majoring in Biology and a woman named Lesley, majoring in the School of Education because she wanted to teach. These two individuals really helped me navigate my whole freshman year. They made time for me and always came through for me. They recommended which classes I should take and how many credits I should enroll in. They even helped me find my classes on the first day of school, get through heartbreaks, and find a balance between family, work, and school. Just like Jan, they exceeded their roles as mentors. These students were only a year or two older than me, but they taught me a lot. The point I’m trying to make is when an individual is hungry and open minded for growth and knowledge, they can learn a thing or two from a person that is willing to help them. I was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to be a mentee of these individuals.


 Receiving a $500 scholarship and iPad with my mentor by my side.


Paying it Forward as a Mentor


If you were to ask me what mentoring a first-generation student is, I’d say it’s much more than giving an individual a chance to attend college.  It’s seeing miracles in action every day because of the process and the connections you build. I was given the opportunity to expand my education, the opportunity to cry and stress about finals, the opportunity to understand diversity, and the opportunity to meet people from different backgrounds. I broke a stereotype not only as a Latina but within my own family.


I realized I wanted to be like Jan, I wanted to continue to give back to others from the things that I was taught. I want to be a mentor. I knew being a mentor in the future would entail acceptance of everything that you struggle with and are also trying to be better at, especially at such a young age. An age where you are still trying to figure many things out.


My second semester as a college freshman I decided to enroll in STEP again, but this time to prepare to take a mentee. I prepared that whole semester and as the following semester approached which was now sophomore year. I took on my first mentee named Cindy. She and I grew very close, very quickly. She reminded me of me. I was very stressed freshman year, trying to always be ahead of the game, finding ways to do more. She was the exact same--it brought me in such awe, because looking back at little me I could see this full circle moment with Cindy. She would be my first mentee out of many more.


Cindy’s biggest challenge was the commuter life, she wanted to make more friends and be more involved, but she needed to work to pay for school. While I wasn’t a commuter, a constant challenge I faced my freshman year was wanting to be involved but also trying to prioritize work. I too had other things to pay for. I constantly remind Cindy, and in a way myself, that we have our whole lives to work. A wise man once told me, if you come to a university strictly for school, you have wasted your money. College is also about networking, finding yourself, and simply just living your life. It’s a time to make mistakes, reflect, and grow from it. This has been a mantra for me and consistently look back at.


My mentee, Cindy, got connected through the STEP program at UofR.


As my sophomore year came to an end, I decided to take a different approach to my education. I became part of the Johnston program, which allowed me to create my own degree. I incorporated public speaking and Business. I also got very involved on campus and found a way to still make money. I started working for UofR Admissions as a Bulldog Ambassador, which gives tours to prospective and transfer students. I also got closer in my faith and joined a Christian club on campus called Young Life, as religion has always been a big part of my journey.


Now as a junior, I got back in touch with the woman who oversaw SMART (the program in which I met Jan). I had asked her how I could help assist with any new projects or even help contribute to SMART, as it still exists to this day. She had told me about this nonprofit organization she was a part of, called NEXGEN Coachella. It’s a mentor, mentee opportunity where individuals between the ages of 18-25 who didn’t attend college begin to find a way to move up in their careers or even a job beyond what we see. I got to be part of that, by searching for potential individuals who could be mentees for the mentors that had already been chosen in various industry fields. I also helped with their marketing team as they were trying to have different perspectives on their current media to draw various audiences’ attention.


I became a Student Director for our school food called Harvest Table, which allowed me to provide service to the students and discuss their concerns, I also am a Resident Assistant who helps facilitate community within the UofR’s Brockton apartments, and still a Bulldog Ambassador.


Many of you are probably thinking, “why and how is this girl doing so much?” Well, to be a mentor means to have experience. And that is what I am doing now in my college career, taking opportunities as they come so I can learn from my experiences and then help mentor others.


I want to help many individuals. I want to understand their struggles so that I can better assist. Till this day, I am still a mentor to Cindy, and I even took a “little” in my sorority who I also get to mentor. I even mentor my little sister back at home. I teach what I have gained not only in my three years of undergrad, but where it all began in high school. I hope to leave a legacy so bright and strong that many are encouraged and motivated to leave their own for future generations.


Jocelyn Torres, junior year at UofR