When Chayil Hyland ’25, a first-generation student, was admitted to Cornell, she was required to attend Cornell’s Pre-Collegiate Summer Scholars Program — an invitation-based residential program where incoming students take summer session courses and are prepared to transition to Cornell. But despite participating in PSSP, she said she struggled to find adequate resources as a college student.
“I felt in PSSP that I did not really belong at Cornell, and I was not worthy of being here since my acceptance was conditional on me attending the program. I wondered ‘Am I smart enough?’ ‘Is Cornell a good fit for me?’” Hyland said. “I also struggled to find resources that could support me in my struggle.”
This year, Hyland is attempting to ease the transition to college life for other first-generation students as a mentor for the inaugural cohort of the Accelerator Scholars Program, which provides first-generation business students with various networking opportunities and specialized skills training.
The program is run through the S.C. Johnson College in partnership with Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. — a global investment company. ASP has a mentor-mentee system in which KKR representatives mentor upperclassmen in the program while the upperclassmen mentor first-year students and sophomores.
To be a part of the program, students must be in either the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Nolan School of Hotel Administration, and they must be first-generation students as defined by Cornell, meaning that neither parent nor guardian completed a four-year college degree. They also must be selected into the program through an application process.
There are currently 69 underclassmen mentees in the program, along with their upperclassmen mentors, according to Prof. Michelle Duguid M.S. ’05 Ph.D. ’08, business, who also serves as the associate dean of diversity, inclusion and belonging at the S.C. Johnson College.
“[The program serves as a] pot of mentorship and networking. We have sessions and ‘lunch and learns’ about executive presence, network negotiations and things like that to fill in the [knowledge] gap [first-generation students face],” Duguid said. “[Within the curriculum,] we’re going to have different skills training, we’re going to bring in speakers and there’s definitely going to be some sort of trip to KKR for some interview prep.”
Duguid also said that one of the key reasons the S.C. Johnson College chose to launch ASP is because PSSP only provides support for students over the summer. Students are selected to PSSP by college offices based on high school experiences, test scores, intended studies and personal backgrounds, according to the Cornell Chronicle.
“One of the things that came up from our admissions team, who works closely with diverse students, is that [PSSP] is a really great program where freshmen and transfers come in the summer, but then once they all head into their own schools and colleges, they feel a little lost, and they become the only one, and maybe there should be a program that kind of bridges that gap,” Duguid said.
Hyland feels ASP is necessary because many first-generation students enter the S.C. Johnson College with disadvantages, including a lack of connections. She feels that the new program addresses first-generation students’ concerns in a way that PSSP lacks.
“It would have been nice to have someone to guide me as I was scared coming into Cornell after [PSSP],” Hyland said. “The mentorship program emphasizes belonging and fosters encouragement. I like that it gives me the opportunity to connect with students who may have gone through the same struggles as me and to not make the same mistakes as I did.”
Maream Adous ’26, a student in the Dyson School, is one of the program’s current underclassmen mentees. For her, the program has been beneficial in developing her academic and professional skills and fostering a tight-knit community of mentors.
“The program gives me a sense of direction regarding both classes and career expectations. I enjoy having a mentor who has walked the same walk as me and can empathize with both the personal and academic struggles of being a first-generation student,” Adous said. “All the mentors are very approachable and genuinely care about their mentees. I feel very comfortable talking about my experiences and concerns because most students can relate.”
Hyland said that ASP provides first-generation students with a valuable head start.
“Most people in the hotel school come from backgrounds that are wealthy in connections and opportunities, and it may not be the case for many of the mentors such as myself and mentees,” Hyland said. “The program introduces [students] to a broad network that not only can guide them to follow their passions and connect them to the right people early on, but these networks care about the well-being of all individuals.”