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Emory's first cohort of the 1915 Scholars Program for first-generation students graduates in May

April 12, 2018

By S.A. Reid, Contributing Writer, Campus Life Communications

Amid the pomp and circumstance of the upcoming commencement ceremonies, a special program that aids first-generation college students at Emory University will graduate its first cohort of participants.

The 1915 Scholars inaugural class of 17 students will receive degrees next month thanks largely to the support they have received from an initiative managed by Campus Life's Office of Student Success Programs and Services (OSSPS) in collaboration with other university organizations, including the Emory Alumni Association and the Office of Undergraduate Education.

But before they collect their hard-earned diplomas, the scholars and their mentors will be the guests of honor at an invitation-only luncheon and awards ceremony that OSSPS is hosting in April in downtown Decatur.

“Our graduating scholars deserve special recognition for reaching the finish line against extraordinary odds,” says OSSPS director Adrienne Slaughter. “We’re more than happy to celebrate their phenomenal achievements and give them a great send off.”

Mentor Wingate with 1915 Scholars Bohannon and Radziminski.

Leslie Wingate (center), a mentor for 1915 Scholars, meets with graduating seniors Jalyn Radziminski (right) and Ayana Bohannon. A sociology major considering a teaching career, Bohannon has been active in a number of student organizations during her Emory experience and serves currently as leader and choreographer for the Zuri Dance Troop. (Photo: Tina Chang)

The idea for the program originated with Michele Davis 87C, a member of the Emory Alumni board, and was established in 2014 with the Alumni Association working closely with Campus Life. The initiative represents the university’s customized approach to addressing the specific needs of its first-generation students. Since inception, the program has worked to smooth these students' college experience by supporting them in adjusting to college life, completing their studies, and accessing university resources and services.

As program participants, scholars experience a specialized orientation, receive customized academic advising, and participate in structured social and networking events. They also receive tiered mentoring from peers, graduate students, and alumni who form a family cluster of support and meet regularly with the scholars throughout the academic year.

The graduation of these 1915 Scholars reflects the progress Emory is making in recruiting and retaining talented, historically underrepresented students who are beating the odds as the first members of their families to pursue higher education. According to research, first-generation, low-income students are less likely to earn a bachelor’s degree than their peers who have at least one parent who has completed college.

That’s due to the unique challenges first-generation students face, including psychological, academic, and financial issues, and more. In addition, these students, most of whom tend to be racial and ethnic minorities, are more likely to experience homesickness, guilt, fear, loneliness, as well as the imposter syndrome, which is characterized by feelings of inadequacy despite obvious success, according to Slaughter.

Jayla Palmer, a media studies and African American studies major, credits the 1915 Scholars Program with helping her overcome anxiety and other problems she experienced as a first-generation, African American student.

“1915 was pivotal and important to my success at Emory,” says the graduating senior who plans to work after graduation as a marketing project manager. “The program connected me with students who shared my anxieties and gave me a wonderful mentor. She helped and supported me personally, professionally, and academically.”

Palmer’s experience is echoed by graduating senior Jalyn Radziminski, another 1915 Scholar. An honor student majoring in linguistics and interdisciplinary studies, Radziminski has served in numerous volunteer student leadership roles at Emory, including sorority president and representative to the University Senate.

“I struggled with a lot of issues, including health, but the program provided the grounding for me and other students to succeed,” says Radziminski, a peer mentor in the program. “Without the 1915 Scholars, I could not have been as engaged in student leadership and service as I was – and I might not even be graduating.”

Peer mentors are an essential element of the 1915 Scholars Program. Like other mentors, Radziminski drew on her own experiences to assist students who entered the program after her. One was Kenny Igarza. For this junior, with a double major in neuroscience and international studies, Radziminski has been an extraordinary inspiration.

“I’ll really think of her a lot,” he says of his friend and former peer mentor. “I kind of looked up to her. When I didn’t know how to navigate the college, she provided that help.”

Isabel Garcia, an alumni mentor and 1999 Emory law school graduate, couldn’t be prouder of her two graduating mentees Xiqin Huang and Tak Chi Wan, both of whom she described as bilingual Chinese American students from “humble” backgrounds.

“They are so impressive,” Garcia says. “One is graduating from business school and the other from nursing school. They came to Emory and not only are successful in graduating but also are at the top of their class. The world is their oyster.”

All three of Leslie Wingate’s mentees will pick up their diplomas next month. Wingate, a 1982 Emory graduate, has mentored Palmer, Radziminski, and their fellow scholar Ayana Bohannon since the program’s inception.

“They are just wonderful girls,” says Wingate, director of campus and community relations for Emory Libraries and Information Technology Services. “I have enjoyed every minute of my relationship with them and have gotten more out of it than they have. I’m so impressed by the fact that they are first-generation and that they are graduating from a top 20 university. I could not be prouder of them.”

Learn more about the 1915 Scholars Program at http://www.emory.edu/CAMPUS_LIFE/initiatives/scholarships_and_awards/1915_scholars.html