Kerestina Khalil, a fourth-year in biology and president of the new student organization First-Generation Pre-Medical Student Association, gives a research talk. | Photo credit: Courtesy of Kerestina Khalil

Before applying to college, Kerestina Khalil thought the Common App was for a smartphone and had no idea was the ACT was.

“I literally thought [the Common App] was an app on the iPhone,” she said.

Now a fourth-year in biology and aiming for medical school, Khalil knows what the ACT and Common App are, but she also realized that the struggles in navigating college applications and the college experience can be daunting for first-generation college students like herself.

The First-Generation Pre-Medical Student Association, founded by Khalil and Trent Jutte, a fourth-year in biology and Spanish, seeks to provide support, education and resources for students who are the first in their families to attend college. Khalil, who will be president of the organization, and Jutte, vice president, brainstormed ways to address the needs of students like themselves, who don’t have the same foundation as others.

“As a first-generation college student, I feel like we don’t have that backbone of success,” Khalil said.

The club will offer workshops on resume building and test taking, stress management tips, talks from medical professionals and resources for finding the volunteer work and research positions that can prove vital to a medical school application.

Jutte said he wants new members to help shape the organization so that it addresses their specific needs. Ultimately, Khalil said she wants to build a roadmap for students that will walk them through the important steps on the path to medical school, year by year.

One of the most important things for the group to provide is support, Khalil said, and Jutte added that he focused too much on academics his first year, missing out on social connections and extracurricular resources. Jutte said he was amazed to find out how simple it was to get into research, which can often be a daunting task for new college students.

Khalil said this social and motivational support is especially important to students whose parents might not grasp the scope of challenges a pre-medical student faces.

“If you have people that don’t understand your struggles, you tend to minimize your feelings,” she said. “I feel like, as first-generation college students, we usually put ourselves down really hard instead of seeing how much we’ve completed in our academic careers.”

Khalil knows first-hand the unique struggles of a first-generation student.

Khalil was born in Egypt, moving here with her family when she was 3 years old. Her parents never completed high school, and she said they have no idea what college life is like. She said this left her without some of the basic support that many students take for granted. Even in kindergarten, Khalil said she struggled with learning English and keeping up with her peers.

Khalil said she acknowledges the immense privilege she has been given to live in America and to attend college. Still, she said there are many aspects of academic life that she was unprepared for.

Jutte said that he was on his own when applying to college.

“Even in the application process for college, I kind of felt like I didn’t really know who to talk to about it,” he said. “No one really reviewed my application that much just because my parents didn’t know what the whole thing was about.”

With Khalil’s similar struggles in the college application process, Khalil said she has a strong desire to help others who are struggling with their success. Since coming to Ohio State, she has mentored students taking the university’s rigorous general chemistry courses.

She also took a trip back to her birthplace, heading to an underserved village in Egypt to provide education on personal hygiene and preventative health topics. Khalil said she thinks it is essential for students to give back to the community they are from if possible.

Now, Khalil, Jutte and other members of the First-Generation Pre-Medical Student Association are hoping to give back to the Ohio State community. They will be at the Involvement Fair this fall looking for people that share their experiences.