During college, I did learn about the idea of mentorship but I did not have a full understanding of its importance. As I have participated in this program, I have become more informed on just how important that is and I wish I had come to this realization sooner. Listening to many healthcare professionals who come from similar backgrounds tell us about their journey into a health career, I have noticed a common pattern. They all emphasize the role that other people’s mentorship played in helping them succeed not only in college but throughout the rest of their lives in their careers. It is here I came to the realization that mentorship and networking are a crucial component to succeeding in a career. I understood that people from affluent backgrounds are born with a social network around them that is not only long term, but will also continue growing to serve as a vital resource in their career path.
In contrast, first generation students who are born lacking that social network, must work to fill in those gaps of by themselves. Because no one in our families can be that support and guide, we must instead seek it out on our own externally through mentors. A special emphasis should be noted on the word mentors not mentor, meaning that a network of people is essential to succ essfully navigate one’s career. Being part of the ChicagoCHEC Fellows Program, I have learned that in mentorship there is a wide spectrum in terms of types. Mentors can vary in terms of level of engagement, for example some mentors choose to take their mentees fully under their wing and follow them closely to provide ample support and guidance. Other mentors may make referrals to connect the mentee to other people or opportunities, these are called sponsors. Other mentors are less engaged and expect the men tee to approach them when necessary; they tend to provide quick advice and guidance. Additionally, mentors can vary in terms of function. Not one mentor has all the answers and knowledge on all areas, therefore, mentors can provide guidance based on specific areas of expertise. Depending on their experience, they can provide guidance on navigating college, the technicalities of a specific career, and even on creating a vision with purpose regardless of the career choice the mentee chooses. Rather than think ing of mentorship as being one person guiding someone, mentorship needs to be thought of as a comprehensive network of people that provide support and guidance to an individual.
Although there are formal mentorship relationships established through programs in college or in high school, the vast majority of mentor-mentee relationships happen informally, in an organic way. This is where the importance of networking comes in. Due to the lack of a professional and social network that first generation students have, it is even more imperative to develop strong networking skills. When I first learned about the idea of networking, it seemed to be regarded as a skill that people in the business field needed to have. Therefore, I did not place too much emphasis on it. These past few weeks that I have been hearing of the importance of mentorship, I have come to realize just how essential they are to one’s success. Networking skills are not optional, they are an absolute requirement. In order to catch up to more afflu ent peers who have a vast networking system and have developed good networking skills early on, first-generation students must work hard to build a network, maintain it throughout time, and build strong networking skills.
First-generation students are not the only ones with this disparity. Individuals with disabilities and mental illness also face these issues. Due to societal stigmatization and the lack of education support they face early on, they are in positions where their social network and their ability to develop strong social networking skills are greatly compromised. Therefore, they also must work hard to build a network and develop strong networking skills to open their paths to professional and educational opportunities.
Although this disparity is seen as a disadvantage, first-generation students’ experiences are meaningful in a separate way. They are experiences that cannot be overlooked because they make each person who they are. As for my experience as a high schooler and college student, while some of my peers may have been shadowing, getting guidance, and exposure to career options, I was cleaning tables at a restaurant trying to make money to support my family’s income. Even though most people would think that cleaning tables at a restaurant is a meaningless menial job, I learned so much from those early experiences working at a young age. It taught me respect for people doing these types of jobs, I developed strong work ethic, and learned to approach any task with dedication on hard work. At the same time, with my parents’ limited English proficiency, I found myself in many odd situations trying to translate for them. I not only learned responsibility and accountability, but I also learned to be an advocate for them. In this manner, I learned to advocate for myself and eventually for others. These experiences are crucial to making the person I am, and I believe the struggles first-generation students face growing up are similar and equip them with a certain set of skills and strengths.