By Callie Ewing, BA ’03 MH ’22
Jeanine Dorrough, BA ’22, conceived the idea for First-Gen Ambassadors last fall, out of a desire to create leadership opportunities unique to first-gen students like herself who are the first in their families to go to college.
During Orientation 2021, the 47 ambassadors are paired up with orientation leaders to guide small groups consisting of first-time UD undergraduates. Once the semester begins, the ambassadors will take over as the leaders of these groups, which will meet periodically throughout the school year. Funded for their work through generous scholarships from the Constantin Foundation, the ambassadors will remain available to their group members as sources of information and support. After the start of the school year, all undergraduates, not just new students, will be able to join and benefit from an ongoing relationship with first-gen ambassadors.
“It’s so important because studies have shown that there is a discrepancy between first-gen students and students whose parents went to UD, or just between first-gen and people whose parents went to college,” explained Dorrough. “I’m sure it’s not just first-gen students who sometimes feel like they need some extra support or guidance, though, and that’s why we decided to open the groups up to everybody, but leave the leadership positions for the first-gen students.”
The ambassadors kicked off their training virtually on Aug. 16, beginning with a presentation by NASPA, a professional association of higher education student affairs administrators, whom Dorrough had booked for this purpose after participating in one of their conferences over the summer that dealt specifically with the higher education experience of first-gen students. The presentation focused on the theme of “Please bother me” — providing tips for the ambassadors on how to reach out to students in their groups who might be reluctant to ask for help, possibly struggling with feelings of shame or with imposter syndrome, worried that they don’t belong at UD or in college at all.
“We want to emphasize that the ambassadors want to be bothered — we want to help,” said Dorrough.
Dorrough herself hails from Bandera, a Texas Hill Country town with a population of approximately 800 and the “Cowboy Capital of the World.” Many there join the military, but few go to college. Dorrough didn’t see the military route for herself, however. She wanted to go into publishing, which she knew would require a college degree. Although she had very little idea of how to go about the college application process, considering no one in her family had gone to college, she made it to UD and is now a double major in English and business. She struggled with asking for help when she first arrived, as there were also fewer resources for first-gen students at that time.
She is so grateful for the support system now in place, which helped build the First-Gen Ambassadors program, naming in particular Affiliate Assistant Professor of English Matt Spring, PhD ’15, director of Academic Success and First-Gen Initiatives, The Seven Arts of Language and The Constantin Scholars Program; Academic Success Adviser Joe Cole; Director of Personal Career Development Shannon Blatt, MA ’14; Director of Student Activities Moey Brown, BA ’17; Director of Alumni Relations, Annual Giving and Donor Stewardship Julie Abell, MBA ’91; Assistant Director of Development Theresa Guin, BA ’18; and Director of Corporate and Community Partnerships Rebecca Almanza.
Dorrough’s fellow peer mentors have also been instrumental. These mentors — Graduate Assistant Bryan De La Cruz, BA ’20, along with Emily Alvarado, BA ’23, Claire Delaplace, BA ’23, Mariah Houser, BA ’23, Netty Kaehler, BA ’23, Princewill Obegolu, BA ’22, Kien Tran, BA ’22, and Vanessa Villagomez, BA ’22 — will each serve as the leader of a small group of ambassadors throughout the school year.
“I poured my whole heart into this program,” said Dorrough. “I hope it continues long after I’ve graduated to ensure future first-gen students are successful at UD.”
Discover more about UD’s first-generation students here.