Opinion: I’m a big fan of mentoring. Here is a sampling of things I say to students.
Gonzalez Perezchica is the executive director of MANA San Diego. She lives in University Heights.
Education is the pathway to upward social mobility. Yet it is education and social class that can determine the type of job a person is able to get after graduating from college. Obtaining a college degree is simply not enough to guarantee first-generation students the opportunity to succeed professionally and access upward social mobility. First-generation college students face additional barriers to career success, including limited social capital.
Pierre Bourdieu, whose work focused on social stratification and social reproduction, was one of the first sociologists to write about social capital. He explained social capital as social and resourceful relationships based on mutual recognition of the group. In other words, social capital is a social network of useful connections that we can access based on group membership. These connections can lead to valuable resources and useful information, thus to social capital.
I’m a big advocate for mentoring. I have seen the difference my conversations have made with students, especially first-generation students whose parents are unable to mentor them in applying to college, landing their first career-relevant job, or navigating in their professional career. Being first isn’t easy, which is why mentoring is so important for first-generation students. Mentoring can be improved by understanding that first generation students have information gaps. Mentors can provide the missing information that parents of first-generation college students are unable to provide to their children. I was amazed at how students told me that a short chat with me had made a difference in their education. Granted, I’ve been mentoring students for a while, so I’ve learned what to say to them.
Here is a sampling of things I say to students.
Working more than 20 hours a week can be detrimental to education, as students need to find time to build that social capital (network) while in college.
Some students are reluctant to get student loans, and I tell them about good and bad debt, explaining that student loans can fall into the category of good debt depending on where they go to college.
Building social capital while in college is essential, as these connections can help land a career-relevant internship.
Students should make it a point to talk to their college professors during office hours, even if it’s just to introduce themselves. College professors can refer them for internships or jobs.
Acquiring relevant professional experience is essential during your university studies. That job in a restaurant or retail helps pay the bills, but ultimately students have to figure out how to gain career-relevant experience, even if it’s volunteering or an unpaid internship. .
Network with your peers, get involved in clubs. Maximize the use of on-campus resources covered by tuition. Meet at the career center. Find that on-campus mentor who wants to help you succeed. They are there. Look for them.
I’m also a big advocate for paid internships because I know low-income students can’t afford to work for free. When students do an unpaid internship, they still have to work in a paid job because someone has to pay the bills. Unpaid internships, even when they provide a good experience, are a hardship for low-income students. In my work as Executive Director at MANA San Diego, I have made it a point to build relationships with top employers such as San Diego Gas & Electric who are willing to meet first-generation students where they are and are ready to frame them. More employers looking to improve their diversity efforts will see positive results when they take the time to mentor first-generation students.
Companies looking to improve their diversity pipeline should take the time to create paid internship programs that include a mentorship component. The talent is here, and smart employers who take the time to nurture first-generation students will reap the rewards of a more diverse workforce at a time when everyone is struggling to find talent. For a selfless person like me, there is no greater reward than knowing that I have helped improve someone’s future simply by sharing what I know. When you help first-generation students find a path to upward social mobility, not only do they benefit, but their families benefit and the whole economy benefits.