First Gen Success Story: Michelle

First-generation college students – those who are the first in their immediate family to attend college – now comprise more than one-quarter of Dominican University of California undergraduates. Incoming first-gen students are invited to join the Torch Student Success Program, a powerful multi-year campus program created to cultivate leadership, develop community, and promote academic success. The program begins with a first-year Summer Bridge Program and continues to support students throughout their time at Dominican through seminars, workshops, and social events.

Meet Michelle Chang ’24

Michelle had many options during her college search.

“I wanted to choose a school that would offer academic rigor and substantial financial support,” she recalls. “I was leaning toward UCLA or Cal Poly SLO, but ultimately I wanted to be part of a school where I got the attention and help I needed in order for me to become an outstanding applicant for medical school.”

A family member, a hiring manager at a tech company, gave her some great advice.

“He said that most of the people he hires were from a small private school and were stronger applicants than people who attended a larger school.”

At San Francisco’s Mercy High School, Michelle was part of a program for first-generation students called College Track. Through College Track she learned about a special scholarship opportunity for students to attend a private college.

“My mentor in College Track pushed me to look into different schools and opportunities, and that's how I found Dominican,” Michelle says. Her Mercy High School counselors urged her to apply, saying Dominican would be a good fit.

“I was lucky enough to be the recipient of the full-tuition College Track scholarship, which crucially impacted my college decision,” Michelle says. “This scholarship made it possible to attend a private institution that supports and guides students to success.”

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Michelle is on Dominican’s pre-medical track, majoring in biology with double minors in chemistry and health humanities. She hopes to attend medical school and become a surgeon.

“I decided to choose Biology because I'm fascinated with the creation and process of life,” she says. “My minors in chemistry and health humanities encompass my passion for writing and math.” 

After her positive experiences in College Track, Michelle was happy to accept an invitation to join the Torch Program. Despite carrying a full academic load in high school, complete with six AP classes, she was initially worried about the transition from high school to college. The summer pre-orientation helped calm her nerves.

“I was introduced to a mock lecture then was given really good advice and support on how to succeed in college. It has really helped.”

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Michelle appreciates the bonding experiences provided by the Torch Program, including the weekly workshops focused on different topics, from academics and beyond. And, despite COVID-19 presenting new challenges, there are still opportunities to have fun and connect.

“The week before Halloween, we were all sent little clay pumpkins to decorate. We all made up a backstory and shared our pumpkins. Bonding activities like these truly make up the Torch experience,” she says.

“We're all comfortable and supportive of one another, and that’s a great feeling to have and share. I have people I can talk to and rely on in any situation. It’s like having a second family.”

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