Impostor syndrome can make or break a first-generation college student’s experience. Like many students who are the first in their family to attend college, Diana Casillas tackled self-doubt in her freshman year at Colorado State University (CSU). In the transition to a new environment, Diana discovered that connections and community can make the difference between surviving—or thriving—in college.
“Being away from family was new,” remembers Diana. “My first year was my most challenging year, emotionally and physically. I was learning so much about who I was. I was surrounded by people who didn’t look like me, and didn’t talk like me.”
Growing a network
With encouragement from her family, Diana pushed through and set out to expand her network on campus. She joined clubs and organizations, including a sorority, and developed an enduring friendship with her roommate. These connections anchored Diana to campus and proved that she belonged in college.
“I surrounded myself with people who looked like me and started feeling a sense of belonging,” Diana shares. “It was a lot of learning and experiencing new things.”
After graduating from CSU, Diana found herself in a transition once again as she moved from Fort Collins back to Denver. This time, she knew she needed to build her community early on, to set herself up for post-graduation success.
“On Facebook, I saw that a fellow DSF and CSU Alumna posted about the DSF Alumni Advisory Committee,” Diana remembers. “At that time, I was just going to my job and going back home. I knew I wanted to do more with my time.”
Through the Alumni Advisory Committee (AAC), Diana became involved in the DSF Mentorship Program. In its first year, the program served as a way to connect DSF Alumni with community mentors. When Diana stepped into a leadership role overseeing the program, she knew that current DSF Scholars could benefit from mentorship in building their communities on and off-campus.
Now, the DSF Mentorship Program has deepened its impact by connecting current DSF Scholars with DSF Alumni. Diana says this change has not only allowed DSF Scholars to find more meaningful support in overcoming experiences like imposter syndrome, but it has also provided a new way for DSF Alumni to give back to their DSF community.
“With this change, we’ve been able to specifically target DSF Scholars who we want to benefit from the program,” Diana explains. “This brings it back to DSF. A lot of our mentees are first-generation college students. When you have someone you can reach out to—who you can relate to—it’s a very special thing.”
Diana says that the greatest part of being involved with the program is seeing the relationships that form through mentorship.
“Since I’ve been a part of the program for three years, I’ve been able to see the program ending with mentees and mentors still keeping their relationship going,” Diana shares. “A lot of the time people will think that the relationship needs to end with the program. It depends on the pair and boundaries, but it’s been nice to see the relationship still happening after the program has ended.”
DSF thanks Diana, our Alumni Advisory Committee, and all of our DSF volunteers for their commitment to making college possible for Denver’s students.