On May 20, social work senior Elizabeth Sanchez will be the very first one in her family to walk across the stage of the Save Mart Center at Fresno State’s 106th University commencement. For the Advising and Career Development Center peer mentor, becoming the first in her family to receive a four-year bachelor’s degree is an accomplishment she takes with great pride.
Following in her footsteps is her mentee, Crystal Mendoza – a first-year pre-nursing major. In a few years, she hopes to walk those same steps at the Save Mart Center.
The two, although years apart in age and grade level, share many similarities. They both came to Fresno State unsure of what path they wanted to take, but knew crossing the finish line would be well worth it. Both have parents that came to America in pursuit of the American dream and a better life for their children.
Sanchez, like many students at Fresno State, is a first-generation college student who serves as a role model for those around her. Having grown up in the small agricultural town of Lindsay, she was the first in her family to seek higher education.
“It is hard, I have to admit,” Sanchez said. “I am the oldest child out of six kids. The rest are still in high school. I always knew that I wanted to go to college. Nobody motivated me to do it. I did it on my own. My parents did not finish high school or receive much education, but they have always encouraged me. I knew couldn’t let my family down because I have younger siblings who consider me to be their role model.”
The sentiment is mirrored by Mendoza, who said her parents are pleased with her pursuit of a college degree.
“My parents are really proud of me,” Mendoza said. “That is why they came to this country and I don’t want to let them down. More than anything my mom has always taught me to be a strong, independent woman. I am dreaming big, but I really want to become a nurse practitioner in the future. But first, I think I am going to explore being a registered nurse first.”
Unlike Sanchez, Mendoza has two older siblings who went to college and received bachelor’s degrees. Even though her siblings were around, she still found the transition from high school to college difficult at first. Joining the advising center’s peer mentors program proved effective, as Mendoza currently has a 4.0 G.P.A. She said Sanchez’s guidance and advice has been beneficial.
“One time I was not doing well in a class and Elizabeth encouraged me to do better,” Mendoza said. “I ended up passing that class with an ‘A’. Because the nursing program is so competitive, getting tips from on Elizabeth on how to get through and survive college has been so helpful.”
Mendoza said Sanchez’s advice extends beyond academics and encourages her to attend social events and get involved on campus.
“She helped me break out of my shell,” Mendoza said. “I used to be introverted, but now I find it easy to make friends and meet people.”
That’s a familiar story for Sanchez, who had to overcome her own initial trepidation before becoming a peer mentor. Since fall 2016, she has worked closely with 35 students and said the experience aligns with her career goal of becoming a social worker working with K-8 or high school students. She chose to become a peer mentor because it gives her the opportunity to gain real-world experience that she can draw upon in her near future.
“My field of social work is related to counseling,” Sanchez said. “As a peer mentor, it is in a sense counseling, just on the academic side. It’s about getting the students involved, learning how they are doing in classes, what activities they are up to and being that extra resource for them. For me it was good to get that experience.”
Throughout her time in the peer mentors program, Sanchez said one of her biggest successes as a mentor is being able to watch her mentees grow alongside her.
“I have seen so many students come back to me and say that the resources actually helped and they wouldn’t have known about it if it wasn’t for me,” Sanchez said. “That just motivates me to keep encouraging students to keep going. Through this program, I feel like my work really means something.”
To learn more about the Peer Mentors Program, contact the College of Health and Human Services Advising and Career Development Center at 559.278.5027 or visit their website.