Published May 4, 2020

Brenda Velarde found her second home at the Honors Living-Learning Community (HLLC) at Rutgers University–Newark. “As a freshman, I had three amazing peer mentors who showed me love and compassion and guided me through my first year,” Brenda says. “As a first-generation college student, I was terrified and had absolutely no idea what to do. My peer mentors helped me feel comfortable at Rutgers–Newark and with HLLC. They helped me feel at home.”

The experience inspired Brenda, now a sophomore, to become a peer mentor. “I wanted to give back to the community that helped me get through some tough times,” she says. “Being a peer mentor helped me find my voice because now I was not only advocating for myself, but also for my students. I learned about all the resources available to make sure my students had all the support possible. I think my favorite part about being a peer mentor is the relationships I developed with other freshmen. I don’t think I would be as close to them if I wasn’t a peer mentor.”

Attending college has been Brenda’s lifelong dream, and she credits her family with encouraging her to pursue higher learning. “I came from a family of immigrants who gave up everything to give me an opportunity for a better life. Being in college means everything to me and my family,” she says.

A psychology major with a minor in social justice at Newark’s School of Arts and Sciences, Brenda hopes to become an occupational therapist and work with children with cancer. Besides being a peer mentor, she volunteers in the occupational and physical therapy department at St. Michael’s Medical Center in Newark. In her free time, she enjoys playing volleyball.

The Honors Living-Learning Community is broadening pathways to college for promising talent. It focuses on identifying the talent in our midst and providing opportunity for all, including those who have been disenfranchised by systems of inequality.

Rutgers and the HLLC are helping Brenda achieve her educational goals. “Being in a supportive environment that encourages students means the world to me,” she says. “I believe Rutgers does a lot of work to try to make education accessible to students who might be economically challenged. However, she thinks some students need help well before they step foot on campus. “Many students in our area don’t know how to apply to college or how to apply for financial aid,” she says. “I think a workshop could be helpful” for these students, she adds.

Brenda is grateful to donors who contribute to programs like HLLC. “By supporting programs like the HLLC Peer Mentoring program, you are giving the mentees opportunities and a safe space where they can ask all the questions they might be afraid to ask,” she says. “We can grow and learn how to advocate for others while also learning about the resources available on campus. Opportunities like this help strengthen our community and how we communicate with each other.”