First-generation students at Binghamton University will now have the opportunity to connect with first-generation faculty members, alumni and graduate students for support, insight and inspiration through the B-First mentoring network.

B-First is a new initiative from the Student Support Services (SSS) office, which will pair first-generation college students with mentors who were also first-generation college graduates. According to the University’s website, the goal is to help students feel connected and know there is someone who has been through the same obstacles while pursuing a degree.

Marissa Zelman, ‘09, assistant director of the SSS, spearheaded the B-First initiative. She worked for more than five years for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), a program that facilitates access to education for first-generation and low-income students. Zelman now focuses on coordinating BU’s peer-to-peer mentoring program.

According to Zelman, the idea for the program came from her own experience as an undergraduate.

“My program and other opportunity programs, although effective, are not enough to support the sheer amount of students on this campus who need them,” Zelman wrote in an email. “That is why we created the proposal — to not only enhance the work of opportunity programs, such as EOP … but, more importantly, to help those lost in the gap, not served by opportunity programs.”

The SSS office also hosts opportunities for students with disabilities, from low-income families and first-generation college students, offering tutoring, counseling, leadership opportunities and peer-to-peer mentoring services.

Zelman said the people who help run the B-First initiative and mentor the students in the program do so as volunteers on top of their usual work.

“We do this work though because it truly means something for us — to create this network we ourselves wish we had and to also connect and build community among this shared identity, that all too often is unknown and endured silently,” Zelman wrote. “Without these lovely folks — their time, their hard work — B-First would not exist.”

Mentor matchings have not happened yet, but B-First currently has 70 mentors and 80 mentees signed up and ready to begin the program. The kickoff for the program took place on Nov. 8 with more than 120 students and faculty were in attendance.

Kirsten Pagan, a B-First mentor and an assessment analyst for the Student Affairs Assessment office, wrote in an email that B-First can prevent first-generation college students from missing important personal development experiences.

“I missed out on opportunities to develop professionally and personally during my own college years simply as a result of not knowing that they existed or how they were beneficial,” Pagan wrote. “I want to save someone else from experiencing the same.”

Harold Lewis, an associate professor of systems science and industrial engineering, was one of the first to offer mentorship for the program. Lewis earned his doctorate in 1994, but first attended BU in 1974 as an undergraduate student and was the first in his family to graduate college.

“Another aspect of this, which I know from my own experiences, is that first-generation students often have special challenges in interacting with their families,” Lewis wrote in an email. “They may face, on the one hand, unrealistic expectations, and on the other jealousy from older family members who did not go to college.”

Although he is not participating in the mentor program anymore because of time constraints, Lewis wrote he initially helped with B-First to provide the support for students he wished he had himself.

“I thought it would be great to have a chance to meet and perhaps help in some way current students who had experiences that to some degree might parallel my own,” Lewis wrote.

According to Lewis, students are not the only ones benefiting from the mentorship program.

“For those doing the mentoring, we all know that we gain both deeper knowledge and broader perspective when we teach or mentor others,” Lewis wrote.