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Bentley first-generation student Kristen Bache
First-generation student and Management major Kristen Bache ’23. Photos by Maddie Schroeder.

During First Falcons Week, a series of programs aimed at celebrating first-generation students, Bentley announced the First Falcons Mentorship Program developed in partnership with Deloitte Consulting. The initiative, which matches participating first-generation sophomore students with an alumni mentor from Deloitte Consulting, was highlighted at a celebration dinner and alumni panel discussion that capped off the week of events. 

“One of the goals of our strategic plan focuses on increasing access and opportunity for first-gen students,” says Vanessa Velasquez, first-generation and student success coordinator and a member of the university’s First-Gen Student Support Committee. “This includes creating a sense of belonging on campus, so when we planned First Falcons Week, we wanted to highlight and complement our students’ strengths while also encouraging them to engage with opportunities that help develop them professionally and personally.” 

On-campus programs included First Falcons Lunch Connections, which paired a student with a faculty or staff member; an introduction to personal finance session with Evan Diamond, vice president of financial education at Cambridge Savings Bank; and a First Falcons Mixer with faculty and staff, which featured a Networking 101 session led by Kristine Vidic, who serves on the First-Gen Student Support Committee and is senior associate director and career equity and access specialist focused on supporting first-generation students in the Pulsifer Career Development Center. Among the tips covered: the proper handshake, how to start (and leave) a conversation and networking while eating (only have a drink or food in one hand so you’re ready for a handshake). 

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Two of the most popular First Falcons Week programs were a student-led creative writing poetry workshop — with a theme of resilience and the first-gen experience — and Puppy, Paint and Pizza, an event where participants created artwork that was relevant to their identities as first-generation students while spending time with support animals. The night ended with impromptu karaoke that filled the room with energy, connectedness and fun.  

“The creative writing workshop and paint night were phenomenal lessons in self-care and mindfulness,” Velasquez says. “Our first-gen students are resilient, ambitious trailblazers, but it’s important for everyone to recognize that if we don’t pause to take care of ourselves, we may not get very far or produce our best. That’s something that is not always talked about.”

Ivana Mercado ’26, a first-gen student who served on the First Falcons Week planning committee, agrees.  

“College is a stressful time, and going through it as a first-gen student is even more overwhelming,” says Mercado, an Economics-Finance major with a minor in Management. She also serves as events coordinator for the FirstGen Presidential Fellows program and captain of the Peer2Peer mentor program. That’s what this week was about — helping students learn about the resources Bentley has for them while having fun. Being a first-generation student is all about being a pioneer, and these types of events are here to show that first-gen students' voices matter and are of value to Bentley.”

Paintings by Bentley students displayed on the green space
Artwork created by students was displayed on the Bentley green space.


According to Jane De León Griffin, associate provost for student success and director of the FirstGen Presidential Fellows program, implementing programs that create a sense of inclusion is important to help ensure college success for first-generation students who are navigating a new landscape and may experience imposter syndrome, defined as the persistent inability to believe that success is deserved or has been legitimately achieved because of one’s own efforts or skills.  

“Connections with allies such as faculty and staff have the power to help improve outcomes for first-gen students, including academic satisfaction, grades and persistence,” Griffin says.   

Griffin, Velasquez and other committee members collaborated with departments across campus and off-campus organizations to ensure a holistic approach to First Falcons Week. Vidic, for example, partnered with Deloitte Consulting to recruit Deloitte alumni for the panel discussion moderated by Melinda Williams Reno ‘92, principal, with panelists Nicole Karagianis ’12, MBA ’22, senior consultant of retail and consumer products strategy; Asimina Morris ’21, consultant; and Andrew Smith ’17, senior consultant. 


Bentley alumni panelists:  Melinda Williams Reno ‘92, principal, with panelists Nicole Karagianis ’12, MBA ’22, Asimina Morris ’21 and Andrew Smith ’17,
Deloitte alumni panel members (left to right): moderator Melinda Williams Reno ‘92, Nicole Karagianis ’12, MBA ’22, Asimina Morris ’21 and Andrew Smith ’17.

The conversation focused on ways to navigate imposter syndrome; how to afford “extras” for extracurricular activities, including business attire for professional development events; how to build connections for internships and jobs; and how to identify companies that are a good fit. 

“The insights, experiences and wisdom of the alumni on the panel provided a wealth of guidance and inspiration for our First Falcons,” says Vidic, who recently launched an on-campus Career Closet that will provide students with free access to professional clothing suitable for career fairs, interviews, networking events, classroom presentations and the workplace. “Sharing their journey, challenges and successes — particularly by alumni who are first-generation students themselves — served as a beacon of motivation. I also believe this program has strengthened the bond between our current students and our alumni community.” 

Jessica Greher Traue, director of community wellbeing and health promotion, served as a liaison between the planning committee and the Pets & People Foundation to bring in therapy animals. Residence Director Keliana Doyle facilitated planning for an off-campus field trip to attend the Class Action First Gen Summit for first-generation students and their allies. Academic Serivces team members attended all events as participants to help facilitate the relationship-building between key campus partners and first-gen students. 

But it was input from first-generation students that helped ensure authentic and meaningful First Falcons Week experiences. The Networking 101 session, for example, was added to the First Falcons Mixer because students wanted to learn basic networking tips before mingling with faculty and staff to test out their new skills.  

“If we really want to elevate first-generation student voices and we want them to feel like this is their campus, we needed to tap into their voices and their contributions to see if programs align with what they need and what they want to see,” Velasquez says. “Bentley is their home, and they ultimately have the power to make things happen.” 

 Zoe Ragland-Haines ’25
 Zoe Ragland-Haines ’25

FirstGen Presidential Fellow Zoe Ragland-Haines ’25 spoke at the First Falcons Celebration Dinner and Panel. 

“Little did I know that applying to Bentley would change my life forever,” Ragland-Haines told the audience, sharing her surprise when was accepted to Bentley and awarded a full scholarship up to the cost of attendance. “Moving to Boston [from Maryland] and immersing myself in Bentley's incredible culture has been the best rollercoaster I have ever experienced. I have had the opportunity to attend the GlobalMindED conference in Denver, Colorado, with other students and staff involved in the FirstGen Presidential Fellows, which helped me land an incredible internship this past summer living and working in Washington, DC. I have made amazing friends, have made amazing memories — but most of all, I have been given incredible opportunities such as being able to speak in front of you all today.”  

Ragland-Haines is a nonprofit committee member and a lead program manager for the Bentley Service-Learning and Civic Engagement Center, vice president of the FirstGen Presidential Fellows program, Peer2Peer mentor, student health leader, Bentley Cheerleading Team recruitment chair and ambassador for the MOSAIC Experience, a pre-orientation program for first-year students of color and their allies.  

Kevin Aprea Cabrera ’26, Rosa Chhay ’26 and Mama Darboe ’26 served on the First Falcons Week planning committee with Mercado. Mikela Cooper ’26, Daelle Guirand ’25 and Evan Murray ’26 supported the creative writing workshop and Puppy, Paint and Pizza session. 

“I joined the committee to sharpen my leadership skills and because I've learned to appreciate the work that Bentley does for its first-gen students and I wanted to be a part of that,” says Darboe, who is a Management major and serves as secretary for Bentley’s Black United Body and as a Peer2Peer mentor and team leader. “To be included in this process means that I am a voice for the other first-gen students on campus.”

Chhay — an Economics-Finance major with a minor in Management, resident assistant for HerStory defined community and mentor for the Women’s Leadership Program and Peer2Peer program — says, “Being a part of the planning committee meant that my hands-on experience would reach and make an impact on students like me. First Falcons week and other programs for first-gen students not only give them the opportunity to grow outside the classroom, but also bring students together, fostering a community. Building this community is essential for first-gen students and allies to learn from one another, lean on one another and teach one another.”   

First Falcons Week complements other Bentley first-generation student success initiatives such as the First Falcons pinning ceremony, First Falcons cording ceremony for graduating seniors, FirstGen Presidential Fellows leadership program, a campus chapter of Tri Alpha — a national first-generation Honor Society — and the First-Gen Student Support Committee, whose mission is to build on first-generation students’ existing strengths and help them leverage the power of a Bentley education to transform their lives.  

First-gen students have had many struggles throughout their journey to college and that should be recognized and assisted with,” says Cabrera, a Corporate Finance and Accounting major with a minor in Management. He is treasurer assistant for Black United Body, events coordinator for the National Association of Black Accountants Bentley student chapter, a Resident Assistant, Peer2Peer mentor and an intern and ambassador for the Multicultural Center. “This week was to help show students that we are here to support them in any way we can. The goal is to build a community and help first-gen students feel proud of their achievements.”

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