Among the first: Sean Bajwa ’18 and Genessis Galindo ’20

Among the first: Sean Bajwa ’18 and Genessis Galindo ’20

Both participated in a pilot mentoring program designed to support first-generation students and recent graduates

Sean Bajwa ’18

Sean Bajwa ’18

Sean Bajwa ’18 and Genessis Galindo ’20 are among firsts at the University of Rochester. They were both the first in their families to graduate from a four-year college. They were also among the first to participate in a pilot mentorship match program this summer, which brought together first-generation students and alumni through the University’s online networking platform, The Meliora Collective.

Supporting students in their career search has always been a priority for the University but it was elevated during COVID-19 as a key area within its new Together for Rochester campaign—a one-year engagement and fundraising effort designed to help make life better for the University community. Expanding support for first-generation students and helping them flourish while on campus and later in their careers is also a campaign priority.

Currently, about 28 percent of undergraduates in the College are low income or first generation—that’s about 170 in the Class of 2024. For students like Bajwa and Galindo, financial support helped get them here—but having a support system and a network has helped them thrive.

The pilot mentoring program, which the Office of Alumni and Constituent Engagement ran this summer in partnership with the Greene Center for Career Education and Connections, matched 85 alumni with 85 recent graduates and current students. The program matches mentors with mentees based on their expertise, industry, location, interest, and more.

In addition to being first-generation students, Bajwa and Galindo were both business analytics majors from Southern California. Bajwa is now an associate at Fortress Investment Group, a private equity firm based in New York City. He analyzes credit opportunities and helps investors make informed decisions. Although he’s only two years out of college, he’s keen to pay it forward as a mentor.

“I benefited from the advice, support, and experience of Rochester alumni when I was an undergraduate student—and I still do,” he says. “I want to provide the kind of support that was so freely given to me, including career advice, decision-making insight, and valuable networking opportunities.”

Genessis Galindo ’20

Genessis Galindo ’20

Since graduating, Galindo’s been working part-time at the Emma Brown Foundation, a not-for-profit that connects diverse student candidates with internship opportunities. In her junior year, the foundation helped Galindo land an internship at MotorTrend sports network (part of Discovery Inc.), in her hometown of Los Angeles.

Although Galindo enjoys her job with the foundation, her goal is full-time employment in data analytics or project management—a goal she’s had since before graduating. Galindo is grateful to Bajwa for his mentorship and support.

“Looking for a job at any time is tough, but especially so now, during the pandemic,” she says. “Fortunately, Sean has been there for me. He is so supportive, helpful, and motivating. I know that finding a full-time position in my field will happen—I just have to be patient.” Galindo adds that even though the formal mentoring program officially ended, she and Bajwa still connect.

Michelle Cavalcanti, associate director of career and professional affinity programs with the Office of Alumni and Constituent Engagement, notes that many in the program continue to be in contact long after the program concludes.

“Mentoring can start off as a formal relationship, but it often leads to organic and ongoing relationships,” says Cavalcanti. “It’s what we are seeing with our pilot program. We’re hopeful that more alumni will raise their hands to be mentors when we officially launch The Meliora Collective Mentorship Program in early 2021. Together, we can make a difference and improve outcomes for our students and recent graduates.”

For help and support, Cavalcanti recommends that current students explore opportunities through the Greene Center, and join The Meliora Collective. The Collective is also a place for all alumni to find fellow alumni for professional advice, networking, and support. To help students and recent graduates, Cavalcanti invites them to reach out and volunteer to mentor, create internship opportunities, consider Rochester graduates for employment, and sign up to participate in a new Greene Center career education forum.

Our top three

What’s been the biggest reward of mentorship?

Bajwa: Knowing that I can do something to help someone just feels right. It’s easy for me to take a few minutes out of my day to talk to someone, tag them in social media, or pass along an opportunity. People have always done this for me, so if I can help, I always will.

Galindo: Looking for a job is stressful and time consuming. Sometimes I feel like I put in all this work and it’s for nothing. But Sean is always there to listen and offer advice and perspective. He reminds me to hang in there and he encourages me. I’m always looking forward to paying it forward in the future and want to give back to someone what Sean has given me.

What advice do you have for first-generation students looking for an internship or a job?

Bajwa: Know yourself and be sure you can articulate what you want and how you can add value to an organization. Find people who are working in the field you are interested in and network with them. Don’t be afraid to reach out to alumni—know that most people want to be helpful.

Go to the Greene Career Center and places like the David T. Kearns Center and the Office of Minority Student Affairs. You’ll find friends there along with people who know how to support you. And, be sure to sign up for The Meliora Collective. Explore The Collective thoroughly, too. You can find people by location, professional area, affinity group, and special-interest group affiliations, too.

Galindo:  For all students, including first-gen ones, go to networking events on campus, at places like the Greene Center and at those run by student clubs, organizations, and affinity groups. Also, look for work-study programs that can help you down-the-road. I worked the front desk at the career center, which expanded my perspective as well as my knowledge about events and opportunities across campus. Look both inside and outside the University, too. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Emma Brown Foundation, which helped me secure my first internship.

Keep this mind, too: Although it might be difficult to find the right opportunity in the timeframe you want, don’t give up. Give your all in everything you pursue. Even though the search may be frustrating, it also offers a ton of opportunities to learn about yourself and what you want.

Who are your most important mentors and role models?

Bajwa: First, my parents—my mom is from the Azures in Portugal and my dad is from India. They have always wanted me to live the American dream, and they’ve worked so hard to make that happen. Professor Wedig from Simon’s business administration program and Rich Handler, chair of the University’s Board of Trustees, inspired me to pursue my dreams. Philip J. Ippolito inspired me, too. He was my former boss at my first job at CastleOak Securities.

And, then there is Murray Rudin, whom I met through The Meliora Collective. He’s in the same field as me and lives on the west coast, not far from where I grew up. He’s done so much for me—given me career perspective, helped me prep for interviews, guided me though job offers—he’s been where I am and is always willing to help.

Galindo: My biggest role models are my mom and grandmother. They always put family first and are the strongest people I know. They have also always encouraged me to be the best version of myself and to embrace opportunities, like going to college, even if it meant going to my dream school—Rochester—on the opposite coast, 2,300 miles away.

Learn more about first-generation students here in this 2019 Rochester Review article, “First in the Family.”

The University of Rochester recently launched Together for Rochester, a one-year campaign to make life better for the University community and the world. Launching the First Generation Network and expanding support for them along with providing career guidance and opportunities for all students are key aspects of the campaign. Learn more about Together for Rochester here.

— Kristine Thompson, November 2020