Three Penn Law School students are establishing a group called First Generation Professionals, which seeks to help students that come from similar backgrounds to connect and to mentor younger first-generation students.
The three law students, Chet Eckman, Akbar Hossain and Steven Miller, each a year apart, were connected by Penn Law Dean of Students Monica Monroe after each student separately approached Monroe with a similar idea. Together they co-founded the First Generation Professionals affinity group at Penn Law at the end of January.
The group held an event on April 13 for first-generation, low-income undergraduates who are potentially interested in applying to law school. The group plans on holding similar events in the future to help fulfill the mentorship aspect of their mission.
“By the time you get to law school, or any professional school, there’s the assumption that the playing field is even,” Hossain said. “But I think what people forget is the experiences of a first-generation student — the experiences we come with, the stories that we bring — are completely different from the regular student that goes to law school.”
Eckman adds that first-generation students at Penn Law often have had different experiences than their peers have had.
He recalled when he brought his resume to Career Services at Penn and was asked about one line describing his job at a cup factory during his freshman summer in college.
“When the Career Services office looked at that, they said, ‘What is this? This is not something we normally see on a resume. Maybe you want to take it off as you apply to law firms.’”
But Eckman maintained that the job was a reflection of who he is and of what connects him to his background.
“It was a job that was a really hard job for me, and it showed me I was going to be the type of person who would make sure that I can accomplish my goals.”
Monroe has continued to work with the First Generation Professionals group after helping the students connect this January. She discussed her upbringing and work experience as a first-generation professional in the panel discussion last Thursday.
“I think that’s what led me to the work that I’m doing today,” she said. “As dean of students, the last thing I want for any student — regardless of background — is to not have information that would benefit them. I’ve been drawn to this work because I want to be able to share what I’ve learned with other students in an effort to help them reach their maximum potential.”
The goal of mentorship and advocacy is reflected in the goals of the new affinity group. Hossain said the First Generation Professionals group was founded with four purposes: networking, mentorship, a place for reflection and advocacy. His ultimate vision for the group is to span across all of Penn’s professional schools to create a bridge for mentorship.
“We want to create a program where the end goal will be lawyers are mentoring us, we are mentoring the undergrads, and the undergrads, in turn, are mentoring high school students,” he said. “We can create a bridge for students to understand what this process is like.”
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