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First class of Kessler Scholars at Cornell succeeded with community and support.

The 2023 Graduating Cohort of Kessler Scholars

Kessler Scholars Program seniors from the Class of 2023 represent the first graduating cohort in the program at Cornell. Over the past four years, the program, overseen by the Office of the Dean of Students’ First-Generation and Low-Income Support, has provided support to these exceptional graduating students—who are among the first in their family to attend college—helping them achieve their dreams through academic, financial, and social support.

From Day 1, the program helped facilitate a smooth transition to Cornell and introduced these scholars to a dynamic community that supported their personal, social, and intellectual growth.

“Coming to Cornell, I was terrified, I was far from home, I knew no one, and didn’t know if I had what it takes to succeed here,” said Javier Villalpando-Hernandez ’23. “With this community and support system in place, I was able to acclimate into the rigorous college environment and found myself becoming more and more independent as time progressed. College no longer seemed unfamiliar to me and the path to my goals became clear and much more attainable.”

One of the most valuable aspects students pointed to in the program is the community it provided, and experiences the scholars shared together.  

Fred Wilpon speaks to Kessler graduates

“Being a Kessler Scholar, especially my freshman year, helped me have a sense of belonging towards Cornell – I felt coming in as a first-gen student I didn’t know much about college or different clubs or activities available on campus,” said Rayan Bhorania ’23. “The program has really helped me feel comfortable around other individuals and groups of people on campus and really helped me assimilate myself into college culture.”

Through academic and professional workshops, students benefited in learning skills towards both their academic career and professional development.

Yanran Kuang ’23 expanded on this. “The Kessler scholars program has aided me in my professional development by providing numerous professional and educational workshops,” she said. “I forsee that even after I leave Cornell, I will continue to benefit from the program as I know the mentors I have met here will continue to support me in my future careers and goals.”The Kessler Scholars peer mentors – a program resource comprised of upper level scholars and other first-generation students – helps first-year Kessler Scholars navigate the system of higher education by sharing institutional knowledge, critical feedback and provides encouragement to successfully navigate campus and community resources that enhance each scholars opportunity to thrive at Cornell.  


“I think being a part of the Kessler Scholars program has been a defining part of my Cornell experience,” said Libby Willkomm ’23. “It’s given me an incredible network and some of my most cherished memories at Cornell, including meeting some incredible other first-generation students and giving me some amazing mentors from the first-generation community.”

“One of my favorite parts was being a mentor – I really loved having younger mentees that I would meet with and talk through their Cornell experience,” Willkomm continues. “This experience really led me to considering a career in higher education and student affairs and so I’ll take the lessons I learned as a Kessler mentor into my future role working with college students all around the nation.”

Fred Wilpon and Kessler Presidential Scholars meet at 2019 Welcome Dinner
Kessler's at their welcome dinner

Further, dedicated staff advisors within the program serve a critical role in student development, helping as a guiding force and support for students to find their way through the college experience.

“The advisors I had here in the program were just amazing and really guided me through every step of the way,” said Alejandra Gonzalez Rivera ’23. “To me, being a first-gen students means ‘resilience.’ I’ve become very proud of all of the barriers I’ve been able to overcome to be here. I feel like it’s really a point of empowerment for me.”

Importantly, throughout their time at Cornell, the class of 2023 Kessler Scholars discovered through the program how to be their best and explore how their Cornell degree empowers them to shape their future.  “In the future, going into graduate school, I know I have this amazing community at Cornell that has really helped me feel supported and comfortable on campus,” said Daphne Lucana ’23. “The experience in the program, “it’s really transformed the way I look at life, and the way I look at myself as a leader, and how I envision my future.”

The Kessler Scholars Program at Cornell is part of the national Kessler Scholars Collaborative along with 15 other institutions. With support from the Judy and Fred Wilpon Family Foundation, these schools are transforming the undergraduate experience for first-generation college students. Students who join the Kessler Scholars Program are part of a powerful network of first generation leaders, connected across multiple institutions throughout their undergraduate college experience and beyond.