The Academic Fellows Program (AFP) recently hosted a virtual event to welcome new members. AFP provides opportunities and programs for students who are BIPOC, first-generation, and other historically-underrepresented students in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences (SBS) at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
I talked with AFP Diversity Fellows Kristal Yee and Jasleen Maldonado to hear more about their experiences with the program.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself outside of AFP?
Kristal: I’m a senior political science and legal studies major, with a Chinese minor. I am a first-generation college student, and depending on how you view it, I am technically a first-generation American. I’m more like a first and a half because my father was born in America, but my mom was born in Hong Kong. Outside of AFP, I’m an executive board member of J Street at UMass Amherst, a political advocacy organization. I’m a sister of Kappa Phi Lambda, which is a multicultural sorority on campus. I’m the undersecretary of diversity at the Student Government Association. I am also a general body member of the Asian American Student Association, UMass Amherst Democrats, and the UMass Amherst Dance Company.
Jasleen: I am a legal studies major and sociology minor. I’m also getting a criminal justice certificate. I'm a junior, and my first year, I did Latinos Unidos, and my family, they all come from Venezuela, which is in South America. I’m a first-generation college student. Well, my mom recently went back to college, but no one in my family has graduated from college or anything like that. And also, my first two years were hard financially. Sometimes I’d have to ask family to help and pitch in or I’d have to get extra shifts at work, so sometimes those types of things can get in the way of school and whatnot. I had an on-campus job my first two years of college. I worked at Berkshire Dining Hall.
How long have you been involved in AFP and what’s your favorite part of it?
Kristal: I’ve been involved in AFP since my freshman year. I was first introduced to it through an alternative spring break in Washington D.C. SBS covered the cost of everything like: transportation, housing, all the fun things. And then, my favorite thing is all the friends I’ve made essentially. I made a ton of really close friends that I’m still connected to and I still talk to like at least once a week, regardless of whether or not they’re still at UMass.
Jasleen: I’ve been in AFP since my sophomore year. So I think my favorite part about it is definitely getting to meet people who have similar backgrounds to you. I think with AFP, it’s kind of like a safe space, you know what I mean? There’s people who you know have gone through some type of struggle, and you know that whatever you talk about there, there’s not going to be any judgement coming from them.
What does it mean to be a diversity fellow?
Kristal: The mission of a diversity fellow is essentially to help foster a community and create meaningful and engaging events that uplift BIPOC, low income, underrepresented, and first-generation students in SBS.
What are some of your responsibilities as a diversity fellow?
Jasleen: Our main job is to try to help students find resources that people who are first-generation might not know right away — like how to find scholarships, or different resources for mental health.
Kristal: We are more of a resource than an organization. Fellows run programming about professional development and professional etiquette events. Also, we have a community closet that’s filled with business apparel for when students need to go to a job fair or an interview. Fellows are also responsible for creating events that involve faculty — like speed networking and things like that.
How was the welcome party? Was the turnout good?
Kristal: Excluding the fellows, we had about 20-25 members in attendance. We were able to go into break out rooms, so it was nice to meet people on a more personal level. In my group, there was a freshman, a junior, I’m a senior, and there were also staff there — the director of career & professional development at SBS. That was handy, because the junior I was with actually had a lot of questions about careers!
Why should someone join AFP?
Kristal: You should join AFP because there is a very deep sense of community, and looking out for your own — because alumni remain actively involved. I know from my personal experience that I would not be where I am professionally without AFP. They provided me a ton of support in terms of recommendations from professors, business etiquette, and how to get scholarships — things that I wouldn’t have known as a freshman that I know now.
Jasleen: When I first came here, I was the first person in my family to go to college, so I didn’t really know anything about what resources there were, or how to find scholarships. And when I joined AFP, it really made me realize that I was not alone in that. Most of my friends didn’t really understand where I was coming from, but with AFP, people are like, “Yeah I also didn’t know what I was doing when I first came here.” Joining AFP helps you realize that other people have the same questions [as you do], and there’s answers to these questions. There are resources that you can find here that can really help you.
What are you most looking forward to this year with AFP?
Kristal: I’m looking forward to expanding the program within the school because AFP doesn’t get the recognition it deserves. It’s such an incredible resource that people don’t even know about, especially if you don’t read newsletters. I put something on my Instagram story about AFP, and an alum from two years ago messaged me and was like, “Where was this when I was in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences?” And I was like, “Literally, it existed. You just didn’t know.” And I don’t want that. I want it so every student knows. There are 2,000 eligible AFP students, but do all 2,000 students know that they’re eligible? Probably not. So creating a name recognition among students is what I really look forward to.
Head here to read more about the SBS Academic Fellows Program.