New Organization Helps Guide First-Generation Students

Jenny Kwun and Nicole Pidala

Second-year students Jenny Kwun and Nicole Pidala are co-presidents of Virginia Law First-Generation Professionals. Photo by Julia Davis

November 8, 2019

University of Virginia School of Law students are working to form a new organization to meet the needs of first-generation students.

Virginia Law First-Generation Professionals will help students identify resources and make connections in ways that may not be obvious to students whose parents didn’t take the same path.

Co-Presidents Jenny Kwun ’21 and Nicole Pidala ’21 were the first in their families to attend graduate school, and they said they want to help others like themselves who are studying at UVA Law.

After a fall Student Affairs Office meeting in 2018 that introduced first-year students to the Law School’s resources, including ones tailored for first-generation students, students expressed interest in forming a formal group in the spring.  

“Peer Advisors are a great resource, but I think it’s just good to have somebody you can talk to just about first-generation stuff,” said Kwun, an immigrant from Korea.

Virginia Law First-Generation Professionals welcomes members from myriad backgrounds, including students who were the first in their families to enroll in secondary, higher or graduate education, working-class or blue-collar backgrounds, or first-generation Americans.

“If you’re coming from a first-generation background, you’re not necessarily aware of the different resources that exist going in,” Pidala said. “You’re not necessarily sure what to look for as a first-generation student if you don’t have parents who are attorneys.”

The group offers a mentorship program spearheaded by Josh Dupre ’21 and Erin Edwards ’21. It pairs 1Ls with other students who have similar backgrounds or experiences.

The organization also holds office hours to answer students’ questions about which courses to take to meet their academic goals. Faculty and staff were invited at the beginning of the academic year to introduce career, academic, and mental health resources that are present at the Law School.

“A lot of our programming is aimed at trying to address discrepancies that exist between students based upon background and try to establish more of an equal playing field,” Pidala added.

Kwun said one of the greatest challenges for first-generation college students is money. A 2018 article published in the Arkansas Law Review found that first-generation third-year law school students on average have 23% more loan debt than their peers, and first-generation college students in general are more likely to come from low-income families.

First-generation students are also more unfamiliar with the legal field, Kwun explained, such as how to speak with lawyers at receptions and other professional settings.

Kwun, of New York City, earned a bachelor’s in mathematics from City College of New York. She is co-president of the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association, events co-chair for Virginia Law Women, and involved with the Student Bar Association’s Diversity Committee, Women of Color and the Virginia Tax Review.

Pidala, of Philipstown, New York, earned a bachelor’s in natural resources from the University of Vermont. She is president of the Virginia Environmental Law Forum, professional programs co-chair for Virginia Law Women, associate projects director of the Virginia Environmental Law Journal and participates in the Environmental and Regulatory Law Clinic.

Founded in 1819, the University of Virginia School of Law is the second-oldest continuously operating law school in the nation. Consistently ranked among the top law schools, Virginia is a world-renowned training ground for distinguished lawyers and public servants, instilling in them a commitment to leadership, integrity and community service.

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