ADVANCE Mentors Provide Strategic Guidance and Support for First Generation Law Students

Jeanna Lee, is a first generation law school student.  As a 1L, she joined ADVANCE, a strategic mentoring initiative designed to provide academic and professional support to first generation, first year law students at AUWCL. Now in her 2L year, she decided to become a mentor herself.

(Pictured Right: Lee with an ADVANCE mentee, Kossi "Jeremie" Siwotso)

“It’s difficult to talk to your parents about law school, especially if they haven’t experienced it and they don’t really know what you’re talking about,” said Lee.   “They want to be very involved, but they’re limited just because they don’t have that knowledge or that background.  I think it really helps to have someone to talk to about law school problems, whether it’s an academic problem or a personal problem, but something related to law school that you feel only other law students may be able to understand.”

Not only did Lee become a mentor, she was also elected to serve as secretary of the executive board of ADVANCE.  One of the things she said she appreciates most about the program is the fact that it focuses strictly on mentoring. 

“We try to be a one-stop-shop of academic and professional resources for ADVANCE mentees,” said Lee.  “If they have a question about financial aid, or a question about outlining for final exams, summer internships, curriculum planning or even how to table for an event, or how to hold a panel, we consider ourselves a resource for our mentees and we have a list of resources we can give them or at least we can direct them to the right person or department.”

Identifying Areas of Need

ADVANCE provides support through a two-tiered mentoring system that pairs student mentees with an upper level law student mentor and a network of working legal professionals and AUWCL alumni.  The first tier, ADVANCE, is made up of 2Ls and 3Ls.  The second tier, ADVANCE PLUS, is comprised of mentors who are recruited from the AUWCL alumni network and other professional networks.

ADVANCE’s founders, a dedicated group of AUWCL alumni who graduated in 2013, identified a need within the community of first generation law students.  They structured ADVANCE to build a community of students who would benefit from the guidance that is necessary to navigate the legal, academic, and professional community.  As part of this goal, ADVANCE works to encourage diversity and has identified five areas that are of the greatest need for first generation law students:

  • Improving academic performance;
  • Making professors students’ greatest assets;
  • Getting ahead through summer internships;
  • Time management and balanced/healthy living;
  • Leveraging AUWCL resources.

"It's like taking a breath of fresh air every time we meet."

Gabriela (Gaby) Baca, a 2L, is a first generation law student who did not know any lawyers growing up.  She said she benefitted greatly from ADVANCE's tight-knit community as a mentee last year.  ADVANCE offered her a dedicated mentor and a committed group of mentors.  The mentors, who were also first-generation law students, understood her questions and helped position her for a successful first year of law school. 

“I experienced how this program - by being small, being strategic - helps improve the academic and professional successes of law students who stand to benefit the most from dedicated mentors and year-long programming,” said Baca. “I returned to ADVANCE as president and as a mentor because I want to give back to other first generation law students. I want to continue the legacy that a small group of committed mentors started last year.”

Baca's mentee, Stephanie Mendiola, a 1L, says that their relationship has proven to be extremely beneficial.

“I’m very excited about my match,” said Mendiola.  “Gaby and I relate on so many different levels.  She has been extremely helpful in so many ways and she helps me to stay calm and organized.  She’s very knowledgeable about the particular things I’m interested in like journal and interning for a firm, a judge, and a government agency. It is helpful and reassuring to be able to meet with an upperclassman, someone who thinks similarly to the way I do, and who has already been through what I’m going through.  It’s like taking a breath of fresh air every time we meet.”

Those students interested in mentoring or becoming mentees, contact wcladvance@gmail.com.

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