President Marc Tessier-Lavigne talks to fellow first-gen students

President Marc Tessier-Lavigne
President Marc Tessier-Lavigne speaking at the First Generation Mentorship Program ceremony. Photo by Steve Fisch

As the first in his family to attend college, ALVARO AMORIN was forced to tackle many challenges on his own. His parents, who immigrated to the United States from Peru when he was 12, didn’t have the experience needed to help answer his many questions about college, starting with how to apply.

“I wasn’t really going to go to college,” said Amorin, now a second-year medical student at Stanford. “My parents didn’t know anything about enrolling.”

“I didn’t know what the SATs were,” said his friend and fellow second-year medical student HECTOR MARTINEZ, also the first in his family to attend college.

Amorin and Martinez, who took part in the medical school’s First Generation Mentorship Program, were among the mentors and mentees honored at a ceremony Sept. 11 for completing the yearlong program.

Designed to pair first-generation medical students and graduate students in the biosciences with mentors who were themselves once first-generation medical or graduate students, the program paired 18 students this past year. Their mentors included faculty, alumni and biotechnology executives.

“This program helps the Stanford Medicine first-year students approach their graduate school journey with the support of a community of alumni, faculty and staff partners,” said MIJIZA SANCHEZ, associate dean for medical student affairs and founding director of the program. “I’m first-gen, and I know from my own experiences when you don’t have someone who has gone through college there for guidance, it’s hard to navigate, especially at a place like Stanford.”

PRESIDENT MARC TESSIER-LAVIGNE shared the story of his challenges as the first in his family to attend college.

“My parents didn’t go to college. My father didn’t graduate from high school,” said Tessier-Lavigne, a neuroscientist, former biotechnology executive and Rhodes Scholar.

Born in Canada, Tessier-Lavigne attended McGill as an undergraduate. He said mentorship played a key role in his college success. His parents, who were in the military and moved the family from the province of Ontario to London and Brussels, always supported his desire to go to college, but they couldn’t advise him on how to achieve his goals, he said.

“Mostly what they said was, ‘I’m sure you’ll make the right decision,’” he said. “They couldn’t tell me things like, ‘Maybe you should get an internship in the summer.’”

Much of his success in connecting with great mentors was based on luck, he said. “I’m thrilled we have a program like this at Stanford,” he said. “You shouldn’t have to rely on luck.”

Read more on the School of Medicine news pages.