A central belief of the Meritus Career Development Program is that the experience of being the first in their families to attend college, while challenging, provides our Scholars with a unique set of assets as they enter the workforce.
This week Executive Director Diana Wolf and Director of Business Partnerships Denise Miller represented Meritus College Fund at the National College Access Network (NCAN) 20th Anniversary Conference in Orlando, FL. Diana and Denise’s presentation, To, Through, and After College: Supporting the First Generation Professional, focused on six concrete ways practitioners can help eliminate the barriers that prevent low-income, first-generation college students from fully utilizing their strengths and skills.
1. Expand Professional Networks
Having access to Career Mentors who can provide individualized insight into a particular field of work and forge connections to professionals in that field allows Scholars to grow their networks beyond what is immediately available to them. Training in informational interviewing builds their capacity for career exploration and provides an avenue for greater access to professional role models.
2. Provide Access to Internships
Paid internships have been proven to significantly increase a college student’s employability and salary after graduation. They also prepare students for the job search process, inform their academic and career choices, and can provide financial stability. At Meritus we feel strongly about the necessity of internships for our Scholars, which is why we’ve partnered with dozens of Bay Area employers to facilitate paid internship opportunities.
3. Increase Career Exposure
Increasing career exposure goes hand-in-hand with expanding professional networks. When college students are connected to working professionals through formal and informal mentoring and informational interviewing, they gain access to career opportunities they may never have considered. Paid internships also provide hands-on experience in the workforce and help Scholars clarify their own paths.
4. Support Job Application Process
From crafting a clear resume, to writing a compelling cover letter, to even knowing where to look for job openings, there are many steps any college student encounters on the way to employment. For first-generation college students who many not naturally have access to career guidance, explicit instruction on how to conquer each step of the job application process is essential.
5. Affirm Sense of Belonging
Recent studies in educational psychology have shown just how debilitating doubts and anxieties about whether they “belong” can be for a students from underrepresented groups. Finding a sense of belonging is important as Scholars transition to college and equally important as they transition into the workforce. Exposure to the professional successes of near-peer first-generation “buddies” and older Career Mentors can bolster a Scholar’s confidence in their own abilities.
6. Emphasize Strengths and Skills
Being the first in one’s family to attend college often necessitates self-resilience, advocacy, and determination beyond what is required from a better-resourced college student. Mentors and coaches who work with first-generation students can highlight these assets and further push Scholars to identify the individual skills that make him or her an attractive job candidate.