First in their family to attend college, Maisha Rho and Bryan DeSouza found support from mentors in the Partners in Excellence (PIE) Program
“I was so lost on campus when I came to Regis,” recalls Everett, Massachusetts nursing student Bryan DeSouza BS ’25. “I missed orientation and felt so out of place, and I didn’t know the campus or who was on it.” As a commuter, Bryan didn’t have the residence life infrastructure of roommates and RAs. As the first member of his family to attend college, he didn’t have parents, siblings, or even grandparents to guide him through the process or share their experiences. What he had was Tori.
Victoria (Tori) Bradley BS ’23 was assigned to be Bryan’s mentor through the Partners in Excellence (PIE) program, which provides guidance and support to first-year students of color and first-generation students from trained peer, faculty, staff, and graduate mentors. Although she is neither a student of color nor a first generation student, Tori responded to an email from the Center for Inclusive Excellence, which runs PIE, seeking mentors.
“I was able to have a smooth transition into college because I was privileged seeing my older sister’s transition and my parents had gone through a similar process when they went to college themselves,” Tori recalls. “I have friends that are of color and /or first generation college students and I could see the different in their views of college and different challenges they faced coming onto campus.”
Bryan’s family includes a father who works in maintenance, a grandfather who was a bricklayer and a grandmother who was a lunch lady. “When I told my dad I wanted to apply to colleges he was delighted,” Bryan says. “He quickly told his family and friends, and everyone came together to support me.”
His high school teachers also encouraged his interest in pursuing higher education and helped him with the application and financial aid process. It was Bryan’s health care skills teacher who recommended Regis.
“She knew I was looking for a close-knit community, a great nursing program, and somewhere that wasn’t too far away from Boston,” he explains. “I took her suggestion, and it didn’t take me too long for me to decide that Regis was where I wanted to be!”
But it was his mentor who helped make the transition successful for Bryan. “After telling her how lost I was feeling, Tori showed me around campus and introduced me to various people. If it wasn’t for her, I would have been struggling to find my place on campus even now.”
Tori’s first impression of Bryan was how motivated and able he was to connect with different people on campus. “I knew from the day I met him that he was going to have a very positive impact on the campus,” she recalls.
For Maisha Rho AS ’23, BS ’24, who is currently enrolled in the dental hygiene program at Regis, that fish out of water feeling many first gen college students initially experience began in her adopted hometown of East Bridgewater, Massachusetts.
“After high school, I was unprepared to attend college because my school was not wide-ranging in outside experience, diversity, inclusion, and the population of Black and People of Color in the entire town was less than 5%,” Maisha explained. “My school also did not prepare me for what I wanted to do after high school.”
She knew she did not want to follow in the footsteps of her mother, a nurse, or her stepfather, a medical engineer, both of whom emigrated from Haiti. Maisha will be the first in her family with a bachelor’s degree.
“I wasn't sure what I wanted to study after high school, but I knew I liked teeth and that people always complimented me on them when they saw me,” Maisha said. “Of course, this was prior to the use of masks, but the compliment is always nice to hear after the mask has been removed.”
She devised a plan to complete the dental hygiene program at Regis, then find a job to save money for dental school, relying on mentors from the PIE program for support. Her favorite was Anabella Morabito, former assistant dean of student affairs at Regis and now, senior manager for equity, diversity and inclusion community engagement in the office of the president at Harvard University.
“She was always upbeat and encouraging,” Maisha writes. “I'd go to her office and we'd talk about stress, anxiety, how Covid was affecting us, gossip, anything mainstream that people needed to talk about.”
Anabella remembers the strong impression Maisha made in their first meeting during summer orientation in 2020. Even on Zoom, she writes, “She truly made the experience so much better than I had ever expected virtual orientation to be. She was in my small group for the [First Year Seminar] FYS class and she was so lively and engaged…I remember thinking, ‘She will be an AMAZING student leader.’ And thankfully, in my time at Regis and through our work in the PIE program I saw her grow into exactly that - an AMAZING student leader!”
After serving as a staff mentor, Anabella co-led the PIE program, which she describes as “invaluable to Regis students. Research clearly shows that transition into college is an especially fragile time for students, and thus we offer programs like early move-in and orientation. Certainly, those are wonderful initiatives, but they don't often go far enough in supporting first-gen BIPOC students. That is why the PIE program was so essential. It allowed students an entire year to acclimate to the environment, learn about crucial student support services, and connect with peer and staff mentors. All of this while receiving credit through a co-curricular course! I also think the leadership of the program makes a huge impact; it is transformative for incoming students to see other students who are older, who are leaders on campus, and who share their identities. It is also imperative for them to form mentoring relationships with staff and faculty who look like them and come from a similar life experience than them. I don't think we can underestimate the value of students seeing themselves represented in people who hold leadership positions.”
Now, Maisha and Bryan both serve in leadership roles themselves; she as an orientation leader, he as a first year representative of the Student Government Association. And while Maisha plans ahead for dental school, Bryan is preparing for a career as a mental health nurse practitioner.
“I am very passionate about mental health and always have been,” he writes. “The pandemic just confirmed that for me as everyone struggled with social isolation, myself included. I chose nursing as a pathway for my career in mental health because of the freedom of practice a nurse practitioner can have in that area.”
While Maisha is looking forward to visiting Anabella at Harvard, Bryan says that Tori still checks in on him and makes herself available whenever he needs her.
“I can attribute Bryan’s success mostly to his hard work and dedication on campus,” Tori says. “I hope and believe I was able to offer Bryan a warm welcome to campus and be someone he could go to with anything he needed on campus. I hope I was also able to connect him with any resources he needed on campus to make the transition to college easier.”
For his part, Bryan calls the PIE program “ the most helpful thing to me on campus,” adding, “I am extremely grateful to have a peer mentor like Tori. I hope to be as helpful to the incoming class of 2026 as Tori was helpful to me.”