Mary Mercado, Assistant Director of Career Engagement and Experiential Learning at Saint Peter’s University, has been involved with America Needs You since she joined as a Fellow in 2016. Since completing the Fellows Program and earning her degree, she has returned as a Mentor Coach and continues her impact through the partnership between Saint Peter’s and FirstGenU, ANY’s virtual e-learning curriculum funded by the Morgan Stanley Institute for Inclusion.
“I’m very excited about our partnership. FirstGenU is going to be invaluable to all students. Whether they’re traditional, non-traditional, or they’re in currently in the workforce and don’t have their dream job, they can use this content to catapult them.”
Her experience as a Fellow means she is acutely aware of the challenges first-generation students face in collegiate environments, including language barriers, lack of access to resources, and often, nontraditional academic schedules.
“With FirstGenU, we have an additional outlet for students. Let’s say they live far away, they have transportation issues, or they physically can’t leave their home; they can still get the content, and it’s delivered very well.”
Mary and her team at Saint Peter’s have incorporated FirstGenU into a pilot work study program for students with financial need. This allows them to provide crucial support for students while addressing a big gap for all college students, especially those who are first-generation: career readiness.
“We knew that in order for it to be fruitful for them, as well as for the department, we had to include professional development in the experience. FirstGenU was an easy fit for that.”
The FirstGenU curriculum, which includes interactive modules focused on topics such as Networking & Career Planning and Navigating Workspaces, has already had a noticeable impact.
“It really gives students an insight to what awaits them. Most of them are coming from high school, they’re young, they have not had these types of experiences yet. It’s an eye opener for them.”
Because ANY are experts in professional development, Mary’s team is able to focus on checking in with students and encouraging independent thinking, rather than acting as content creators.
“Our attitude is we leave the expertise to the experts. FirstGenU delivers all the content, it’s very interactive, and we have the participant handbooks. The important thing is we follow up. All those students that completed it, we’re going to meet with them and talk about any questions they have and how they can put the content into practice.”
While Saint Peter’s has implemented FirstGenU in the way they see most effective for their student body, what really stands out is how flexible the program is, and therefore how accessible it is to any first-generation student.
“What I love about FirstGenU is it’s never too early to start, and it’s never too late. You can step foot on campus and sign up. If you get to your last semester before graduation and realize you’ve been focusing on school and haven’t even thought about what comes next, you can still sign up for FirstGenU and really hit the ground running. At any point in your experience in college, you can get started.”