By GRACE GERASS
Published March 29, 2023
The University Honors College created the Generation Honors program — now in its second year — to provide an opportunity for underrepresented minority students to develop a deep sense of community, build lasting connections and leverage campus resources starting the summer before their first year and lasting through graduation.
That’s exactly what Giancarlo Martinez was looking for.
“I’ll be honest. I was skeptical about joining at first because many other programs for underrepresented students that I’ve joined have been ungenuine,” says Martinez, who joined Generation Honors in 2022. “But Generation Honors isn’t just about saying they’re here to help. They actually provide a community and resources for when students have questions, feel lost or need a place to go for support.”
The concept for Generation Honors came from the conversations that occurred following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.
“We heard students expressing the need for a formal way to support one another and make sense of what was going on,” says Patrick McDevitt, Honors College academic director. “Darius Melvin, who has since left UB for another opportunity in diversity, equity and inclusion, facilitated those conversations and realized we could reach students as soon as they were coming to UB.”
Once admitted to the Honors College, any student who identifies as Black or African American, Hispanic/Latino, Native American/American Indian or Alaska Native, or Native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islander is invited to participate in the program.
“Recent years have highlighted the importance of community,” McDevitt says. “While everyone who is admitted to the Honors College is accomplished, not everyone thrives once here. Feelings of isolation or alienation can be a key reason why, and finding a community can be more challenging for students of color who are studying at a predominately white institution.”
Before the start of the academic year, participants attend virtual workshops about navigating life as first-year students and setting goals that will help them prepare for a successful first semester. They’re also invited to join their cohort on campus in the summer through exclusive programming meant to help them find their way around, discover helpful resources and get to know fellow students. Students are then matched up with a more senior honors scholar who is committed to providing support as part of a peer mentorship program.
Martinez says that as a first-generation, underrepresented Latino student, “my family couldn’t provide guidance as I figured out my place at UB. The Generation Honors events introduced me to topics I didn’t even think about until I got there, like imposter syndrome, feelings of uncertainty and knowing your value in the Honors College,” he says. “It was great to be around people who, while all different, understood my experience.”
Starting this fall, Generation Honors scholars are invited to a weekend retreat to reflect on their first few weeks of college life. The retreat is funded by two Honors College alumni.
“It was the sense of belonging, connection and support from the Honors College that made UB feel like family to us,” note Joseph Szustakowski (BS ‘95) and Renee Lansley (BA ‘96). “We want this sense of community for Generation Honors students, as well, which is why we chose to support the retreat for the next three cohorts.
“We hope this opportunity will create space for Generation Honors scholars to develop the deep personal connections that will carry them through, not only to graduation, but to a lifetime of success as Honors College alumni.”
Throughout the remainder of the year, scholars work with their academic advisers to plan semester schedules that help them reach their short- and long-term goals. Beyond the first year, scholars are connected with faculty mentors who support their academic growth. As a part of the Honors College, they also have access to unique funding opportunities, receive guidance in applying for national fellowships and are able to participate in a variety of diverse leadership, advocacy and community engagement opportunities.
“We’re currently recruiting for the third year of the program,” McDevitt explains. “We had over 20 scholars in the first year, more than 40 in the second and we expect roughly 75 in our third year. Our goal is to engage and support every Honors College student who identifies as an underrepresented minority. We will grow this program as big as it needs to be.”
So far, Generation Honor’s approach to formalizing community is working. In a survey of all participants, everyone said being a part of the program made them feel more welcome and at home at UB and with the Honors College.
“I can’t stress enough how valuable Generation Honors has been for me,” Martinez says. “Universities are often touting the importance of diversity, but don’t do anything real. This program melds sentiment with action. It’s a shouting example of what a college needs to do — and it should be replicated.”
Generation Honors is now welcoming applicants for the 2023-24 academic year. Learn more on the Honors College website.
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