Mitch Winterlin has aspired to become a teacher since the first grade.
“I’ve always enjoyed helping others and seeing them grow,” says Winterlin, a University of Iowa senior and president of the Undergraduate Student Government.
Winterlin’s intellectual curiosity allowed him to excel in school, and it also helped him navigate the college search process as the first member of his family to seek higher education. “There were a lot of barriers that I had to figure out when applying to schools,” says the Bettendorf, Iowa, native. “I was fortunate to have a really good high school counseling system that helped me along the way.”
After being accepted to the UI, Winterlin—a psychology and social studies education major—found additional resources through the First Gen Hawks program. One in five Iowa undergraduates are first-generation college students—meaning that a family member has not completed a bachelor’s degree. First Gen Hawks, which is 100% donor funded, provides those students with a high-touch network of support—including academic coaches, peer mentors, and on-campus employment. This year’s cohort features 167 first-year students.
In the first four years of the program, First Gen Hawks participants have earned higher grade point averages than other Hawkeyes on campus, and 44% of participants made the dean’s list in 2022. This year, the program began expanding services to participants in their second year of college, including continued coaching and an experiential learning course in partnership with the UI Pomerantz Career Center that provides opportunities for career development.
Benefiting from the sense of community he gained from First Gen Hawks in his first year, Winterlin later served two years as a peer mentor in the program. “Coming to Iowa, the First Gen Hawks program helped me feel very supported,” he says. “I was able to connect with other people in seminar classes, and having a dedicated peer mentor, I was able to understand what resources were available to me at Iowa.”
Winterlin now works to make resources available for others as student body president. He and Carly O’Brien, Undergraduate Student Government vice president, are focusing on issues of mental health, outreach, revitalization, and equity during the 2023–24 academic year term.
Mental health has been a longstanding priority for them since they participated in the President’s Leadership Class in fall 2021 and helped create Paws at Iowa, a student organization that aims to connect students with therapy animals. The group is working to sponsor two therapy dogs on campus and host more therapy dog events with community partners.
Winterlin believes his experience as the first in his family to go to college has helped him better connect with students. “Through my role as a peer mentor in the First Gen Hawks program, being a resident assistant for a year, and serving in various leadership positions in student organizations, I have been able to understand what students prioritize and need most on campus,” he says.
Upon graduation next spring, Winterlin hopes to teach abroad and explore various education systems to become a more culturally conscious educator. He plans to be a high school social studies teacher and teach psychology, sociology, or history with an emphasis on amplifying underrepresented voices in curricular. “So often, students lack a clear understanding of how our world has shaped into what it is today,” says Winterlin, “and I want to support students in developing these critical skills to analyze the world around them to aim to make it better.”
Learn more about the UI’s support for first-generation students, and give to the First Gen Hawks program.