First Generation Advocates Program Eases Transition to Law School

By Carla Meyer

Entering her 1L year at UC Davis Law, Kimberly Martinez ’25 anticipated having “a lot of questions that I wouldn’t necessarily know who to ask,” she said. As the first college graduate in her family, she knew she differed from most law school peers, so “there was also that element of thinking other students won’t understand why I am asking certain questions – or why some resources might not be available to me.”

But Martinez found an immediate support system in First Generation Advocates, a 7-year-old UC Davis Law program that matches first-generation 1L students with faculty and student mentors, provides resources throughout the academic year and offers opportunities to meet other first-generation students.

“Having other first-generation students with similarities can validate your emotions as you are going through the first year,” said Martinez, who counts fellow FGA participants among her closest friends at King Hall. Martinez said FGA also “can support you with real advice,” gained through information sessions including financial literacy seminars and Career Services and Academic Success presentations. Director of Diversity and Student Life Alexis Elston, who directs FGA, also holds regular office hours for program participants.

First-generation students, who make up a remarkable 27% of the Class of 2026, also benefit immensely from mentorship by faculty members who share their own experiences in law school and the legal field. The most active has been Dean Kevin R. Johnson, with whom Martinez and many other students were paired over the years.

“Part of my job as dean is to make sure we not only recruit students from all backgrounds but help them succeed once they are in law school,” Johnson said. “First Generation Advocates eases the transition to law school and promotes equal access to an excellent education. So, I of course want to personally be part of that, as a mentor.”

Martinez credits the dean’s support with helping her secure a summer 2023 judicial externship with Judge Troy Nunley of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

“The encouragement I got from him was a big reason why I ended up applying,” Martinez said. “He gave me information about what the externship meant. No one in my family is an attorney, so I didn’t fully understand the gravity of this type of opportunity.”

Johnson strongly encouraged another Class of 2025 mentee, Alan Gonzalez, to apply to the Sacramento Bar Association Diversity Fellowship program, which placed Gonzalez at Sacramento law firm Porter Scott in summer 2023. Gonzalez will return to the firm next year as a summer law clerk.

“Having a mentor who is older and is also first generation, it’s extremely helpful,” Gonzalez said. Without Johnson’s support, “I don’t know if I would be in the situation that I am today.”

FGA also connects 1Ls with 2L and 3L program alums who make up the FGA Student Board. Among other initiatives, the board started a book-borrowing program benefiting first-generation students.

Now an FGA student mentor, Martinez participated in a panel at the program’s  pre-orientation event during August’s Intro Week.

Giving back is part of the spirit of FGA, where Elston, the student board and faculty mentors like Johnson have “really cultivated a community that is so present for students,” Martinez said. “It’s just such an incredible space. … It makes a big difference.” 

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