Linkages Mentor Program students.
Nadia Khumbah ’27 and students in Linkages Mentor Program. (Student Diversity and Inclusion Services/University of St. Thomas)

Linkages Mentor Program Provides Support to First-Year Students

When first-year student Nadia Khumbah received an email to apply to the Linkages Mentor Program, she knew she wanted to right away. As an international student from Cameroon, Khumbah was nervous about feeling a sense of belonging and finding community so far from home. Since the program is designed for students typically underrepresented at the University of St. Thomas, Khumbah felt it was exactly what she needed.

After having such a positive experience in the program this school year, Khumbah plans to mentor incoming mentees this fall.

Since 2007, the Student Diversity and Inclusion Services Office and team have been instrumental in the Linkages Mentor Program. This program, a formal peer mentoring initiative, is designed to support the retention of underrepresented students, primarily students of color, first-generation students, and those demonstrating significant financial need at the University of St. Thomas, the largest private university in Minnesota. The heart of this program lies in our student mentors, who, drawing from their own experiences and college success strategies, guide first-year students through the transition from high school to college.

Nayely Becerra Castillo (Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas)

“One of the primary reasons why Linkages exists is because research has found that when a first-year student has a question, the first person they’re going to go and ask is a peer,” Assistant Director of Retention and Student Success Nayely Becerra Castillo, overseer of the Linkages Mentor Program, explained. “When first-year students have a peer mentor whose role is to answer their questions, they feel supported, and that makes a huge difference.”

To broaden the scope of support, this school year the Linkages Mentor Program organized mentors to focus on small groups of mentees instead of one-on-one relationships as the program has done in the past. Through this redesign, the program aided 45 first-year students during the 2023-24 school year, which is double the number the program was able to support in its previous years.

For sophomore Enelitte Paucar, the program’s mission to help more underrepresented students adjust to college was a deciding factor in her decision to join the Linkages team as a mentor this school year. As a first-generation college student, Paucar navigated the transition to college primarily on her own. Because of the challenges she faced in her first year, Paucar wanted to help other incoming students and now serves as a mentor to five mentees.

“I’m really glad to be part of a program where students are able to ask me a lot of questions,” Paucar said. “From my experience, I can help them and give them resources to handle their situations.”

Linkages goes beyond fostering connections and peer learning. Through monthly workshops, the program empowers students to develop their overall academic, career and personal skills. These Linkages intern-led workshops provide mentors with an opportunity to lead by collaborating on topics they believe will benefit their mentees.

“Workshops are set up for students to have a successful first year,” Linkages intern Maxine Osei ’26 explained. “In workshops, we want to go in depth with topics that mentors would have loved to hear about during their first year.”

Past workshops have included representatives from U.S. Bank in which students learned about the importance of financial health and networked with professionals, in addition to faculty and staff from various offices across campus, such as academic counseling and the financial aid office.

“At the end of every workshop, we give mentees the contact information of the people, which students find helpful for them because they form a connection and can reach out to ask questions,” Linkages intern Asha Patani ’26 added.

“I’m grateful to have been a mentee in the Linkages Program,” first-year student Michael Rosas Ceronio said. “My mentors were incredibly helpful in giving me advice in various areas from internships to networking. It was good to know there were students like me who have gone through similar troubles when they were in their first year. Each workshop always had a welcoming environment for curiosity and learning. I’ve made multiple connections through the program as well, and the advice given me to me to will not be forgotten!”

Through participation in Linkages, students receive personalized attention, academic advising, career support, and community building. Incoming first-year students can apply to be a mentee in the summer before the academic year starts on the Linkages Mentor Program website.

2023-24 students in Linkages Mentor Program, photograph © Leslee Menjiva