Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Blazing The Trail: Successes Of First-Generation Honors Students

New York Needs You is a selective fellowship program that helps first-generation college students prepare for and succeed in their careers.  Two Verrazano honors students, Alixandra Petersen and Farzeen Kanwal, were selected for this year's class of New York Needs You Fellows.  Below, they share their thoughts on the application process and what they've gained from the fellowship experience thus far.

My name is Alixandra Petersen and I am part of the Verrazano Class of 2016. I am currently studying English with a concentration in Writing, and after earning my undergraduate degree I plan on pursuing a doctoral degree in Physical Therapy.  My name is Farzeen Kanwal and I am working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing.  I hope to attend a graduate program to become a Nurse Practitioner upon graduation as part of the Verrazano Class of 2015.

The photo is of us with our mentors on Match Day. 
They will be our main source of guidance throughout the two-year program.

In the Spring ‘13 semester we were taking a Psychology course together, never realizing that we were both applying for the New York Needs You (NYNY) fellowship. This is a program which is dedicated to providing holistic mentorship and career development to low-income, first-generation college students. The application process included writing three essays and receiving at least one letter of recommendation, along with submitting our transcripts and basic information about our financial situations. We both became finalists and were invited to interview to become part of the 2013 class. It was not until Interview Day that we realized we were both trying to secure 1 of the 100 seats in the class. We were both so nervous, but seeing each other definitely eased our minds as we waited for our interviews. The interview process consisted of a one-on-one Q&A to get to know us on a personal level, as well as a group interview which focused on our ability to work in a group and think critically on our feet. A few weeks later we were ecstatic to learn we had both been selected to be a part of such a great fellowship.  

The program consists of 28 workshops held over a two-year period in Manhattan. We are expected to wear business casual attire to each workshop because we are focused on preparing for our professional careers. Each workshop is structured in a similar way; first, fellows meet for an hour with the NYNY staff to discuss goals and tips for the day. Then, we break out into groups to work with the mentors on the skill or objective we are focused on. At each workshop we have focused on different things we will need in the professional world, such as: exploring our career interests, writing resumes, public speaking, expanding our networking skills and practicing professional etiquette. To end each workshop, we gather to reflect and share anything with all of the fellows, coaches and staff.  We might share achieving a personal goal, overcoming a challenge, securing a new job/internship or to just something we learned that day. During these workshops we have had the ability to meet and network with the Mentor Coaches, who are young, thriving professionals that are volunteering to share their knowledge, skills and network in order to help us achieve success. We are eagerly anticipating our next workshop when each fellow will be matched with a mentor who will be their main resource throughout the program. We are matched based on a number of things including: preference, industry, experiences, and personal interests. Even though we will each be paired, all of the coaches and staff are available to support and assist each fellow when needed. 

During this program we are expected to secure at least two internships that span five or more weeks. The staff and Mentor Coaches are very helpful in assisting fellows with searching and securing internships at various prestigious companies and organizations. Once an internship is secured, the staff does whatever they can to ensure we receive valuable experience that will help us in the professional world. Internships are a valuable way for us to gain real-life experience and grow our networks in the fields we plan to enter upon graduation. Being a part of the NYNY fellowship we also receive a professional development grant of $2,500, which can be used on things such as technology, business attire for interviews, and test-prep courses. There are also other events which they hold for fellows including field days, holiday parties, and days where we receive free business attire. The staff and mentor coaches really go above and beyond to make sure we all receive the personal and professional support we need to succeed in school and the professional world. The journey has just begun and it has already been life changing for both of us. 

To learn more about the New York Needs You Fellows Program, please visit their website.  

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