UNT first-gen communication studies students forge bonds with alumni mentoring program

Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Dr. Brian RichardsonDENTON (UNT), Texas — The Department of Communication Studies at the University of North Texas held its sixth annual COMM Alumni Mentoring Program (CAMP) this spring. The program, which matches current communication studies majors with department alumni, aims to create networking and career-building opportunities for students — especially those who are the first in their family to attend college.

“I was a first-generation college student,” said Brian Richardson, founder of CAMP and a professor in UNT’s Department of Communication Studies. “When I graduated with my bachelor’s degree, I was clueless about how to take that degree, get a job, explore careers and network.”

Richardson recalls reading a study showing that first-generation college students are less likely than their peers to have effective career networks after graduation. That study, paired with his own experience, led him to create CAMP.

The program is one of many ways UNT supports its first-generation college students, who make up about 41.5% of the undergraduate student body. The First-Generation Success Center offers students guidance through workshops and presentations on topics like financial aid and literacy, campus resources, and career preparation. The UNT Career Center also offers individual support and career coaching to ensure every student’s success.

Students and alumni hoping to participate in CAMP apply by answering questions about their interests, career paths and goals. Richardson then matches each student to one or two alumni with similar interests and experiences.

At the event, participants mingle over light refreshments and hear keynote speeches before meeting their mentor or mentee. Mentor pairs bond over questionnaires provided by CAMP organizers. Topics include academic and career ambitions, professional experience and their time at UNT. At the end of the program, mentor pairs exchange contact information so they can remain in touch.

“It’s a good way for students to grow their networks and learn the ropes from someone who’s taken the same classes and graduated from the same department,” Richardson said. “Our alums can show students what the world beyond college will look like for them.”

Jaime DeWees (left) and Gabbi Pacheco (right)Jaime DeWees (’11) and Gabbi Pacheco (’20) know firsthand how impactful CAMP can be for both students and alumni. DeWees, a UNT communication studies alumna who now works as an attorney, was assigned to mentor Pacheco at the first CAMP session in 2019.

While DeWees was thrilled with the opportunity to give back, she said her relationship with Pacheco was also a gift.

“It was great to see Gabbi’s progress in real time and talk with her about law school, applications and test scores,” DeWees said. “And even as a mentor, talking with her was this great refresher for me, since some of the processes change over time.”

Pacheco, a first-generation college student, attended CAMP without specific professional goals in mind. But after meeting with DeWees and learning about her law career, Pacheco was inspired to use her communication studies degree to embark on a similar journey.

“Having those one-on-one conversations and seeing another woman who had taken this path, that was really impactful for me,” Pacheco said. “That led to me testing the waters and eventually going to law school.”

Pacheco will take the Texas state bar exam in July. She credits DeWees and UNT’s CAMP with her academic and professional success.

“I really didn’t understand until later the impact our connection had. I still talk to this day about how meeting Jaime really changed everything for me later on,” Pacheco said. “CAMP definitely matched me with the best person.”

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From UNT News – General News