Penina, a first-generation college student, faced several challenges when starting at Central Connecticut State University in the fall of 2019. Commuting from Hartford to New Britain by bus and helping her parents care for her younger siblings, she found it difficult to attend professors’ office hours. She struggled with consistent time management and motivation.
Penina told her mentor, Grecia Zaldiva, she wanted to remain focused and motivated because she knew graduating from college would open many doors. However, there was no one at home who could teach her about how college life works or how challenging a transition it is to go from high school to college.
Not knowing where to go for help or apply for work study jobs on campus, Grecia gave her all the resources that CCSU provides, as well telling her where they are located.
“I also always encouraged her to participate and ask for help in her classes,” Grecia says.
At first, as a commuter, Penina found it challenging to make friends. After Grecia sat with her and showed her the website page that lists all the university clubs, Penina joined the Africana Club, where she made good friends and felt part of the campus community. (Research shows students who feel engaged are more apt to persist in college and graduate.)
Grecia guided her and encouraged her to take advantage of all the opportunities she could during college. Knowing Penina wanted to live on campus and focus on school without taking out loans, her mentor told her that if she became an RA as an upperclassman, she’d receive free room and board, but she will need experience.
Grecia helped Penina look for volunteer opportunities, which led to her applying for a volunteer role as an Orientation Leader. Grecia conducted a mock interview with Penina to help prepare her, as she’d never been interviewed before. When Penina didn’t get the position, her mentor told her not to be discouraged and helped her find a lower-level volunteer position that would be the first step toward reaching her ultimate goal of landing an RA job.
As their relationship developed, Penina became more confident and eager to take advantage of all the opportunities college offers. Grecia sat with her and showed her how to organize and color-code her agenda in order to improve her time-management skills, and Penina learned to organize her time well.
While the funding for ALL IN!’s Campus Retention program last year only allowed for one semester of mentoring, Grecia continued mentoring Penina through her second semester as a volunteer. She helped her select her courses, recommending professors. When her parents were unable to work because of the coronavirus, her mentor gave Penina the name and email of someone in the Financial Aid Office and told her to share her changed family finances . The university increased her need-based grant amount as a result, allowing her to continue her education. The goal this fall is to expand the number of mentors who support Hartford Public School graduates as they begin college. The mentoring program seeks to increase the rate of degree completion for Hartford graduates, which, research shows is the most effective way to end the cycle of poverty that traps so many students we seek to serve.