Stepping stones to success
Helen Kidane reflects on her experiences in the Dean’s Future Scholars program and how it helped her succeed in her undergraduate career.
The first time I stepped foot onto a college campus I was 12 years old. It was at UNR, of all places, and it was the middle of my summer break. I had been participating in a program called Dean’s Future Scholars (DFS). At that point, I had some resentment for these people that made me waste my summer at “school”, but we spent our time doing science projects and dancing at talent shows, and it was admittedly a better summer than anticipated.
I like to think of the events of my life as little stepping stones on a path that have led me to where I am today. Being at DFS that summer was certainly one of those stepping stones for me. DFS is an academic outreach program that seeks to provide first-gen, low-income students in the community with access to higher education. It is a program that targets middle school students and follows them until they graduate high school. I got into the program of course because I checked all the boxes; I certainly wasn’t rich, and my parents immigrated to the U.S. and had never gone to college. When I joined the program in middle school I had no expectations. I knew that I wanted to go to college but I didn’t know how to get there.
Through DFS I was introduced to many mentors throughout middle and high school, and they would spend their time with me talking about college – what I wanted to do, what it would be like, how I could pay for it, etc. I always enjoyed these conversations, not only because I was eager to go to college, but I was able to bond with mentors who saw my potential as a student and helped me develop my academic career. More importantly, I got to see mentors who were in college and looked like me, and that truly made me feel like I could really do it.
Another one of my pivotal stepping stone moments happened with my high school mentor. I was venting to him about a paper for a class that I had no clue how to write about. All I knew was that I wanted to write a psychology paper. My mentor, being a psychology major himself, decided to lend me one of his textbooks so that I could find something to write about. While I probably didn’t understand a lot of what was in that textbook at the time, it sparked an interest in me and I knew that psychology was a field that I wanted to pursue, and I used that book as a reference for the rest of my psych papers in high school. Something that I think is hard to find in other programs is the strong interpersonal relationships that you build with your mentors in the program. I truly felt like my mentors took the time to get to know me, and they provided me with the resources I needed to thrive both as a student and as a person.
As I grew out of the program and began my studies at UNR, I was able to reflect on the value and influence that DFS had on my academic development. This program provided support for students that are often neglected in schools due to a lack of resources and accommodations. When the odds are so heavily stacked against you, it is easy to slip through the cracks. One of the great things that this program provides is a sense of community. I have met many students through the program who I felt were a part of the backbone of my success in high school and even college. Not only do you have people cheering you on, but you’ve also got people to look up to who come from the same background as you. It is because of these reasons that I decided to mentor for DFS myself. I wanted to be that role model for a student who didn’t think they could do it before. I wanted to be someone else’s stepping stone, the same way my mentors were for me.
As of right now, I am in the second year of my master’s in the Behavior Analysis program at UNR. I’ve been a mentor for 4 years, and I’ve been able to meet so many bright students in the community who have such a strong drive for learning much like I did when I was in their shoes. While a lot of these pivotal moments in my life seemed so small in the moment I look behind me and I see that I’ve paved such a long path, and I have so much more to go. DFS has done so much for many students in our community, and it is thanks to DFS that we have created so many paths to a bright future.