A Next-Gen program on the Amherst College campus

One by one, students trickled into a campus meeting room, brushing snowflakes from their coats.

The College had delayed opening until 11 a.m. because of the weather, yet members of this group had tromped through the snow at 9:30 a.m. to hear Chloe McKenzie ’14 speak about financial literacy.

Rather than use her hour to talk about balancing a checkbook or creating a household budget, McKenzie discussed inclusive economies. And leveraging finance as a source of activism. And stock options. And “dismantling the structures that create and perpetuate income inequality.”

“Cool, right?” said McKenzie, founder, president and CEO of BlackFem Inc., which provides financial services and education to underserved communities of color. “Those are the things your investments can do for you.”

McKenzie’s talk was one event in the Next Generation Leadership Institute, held Jan. 14–18 for “first-generation and/or low-income Amherst students to cultivate and highlight existing social and cultural capital in their personal and professional lives,” as the organizers described it.

In many instances,” says one student, “we do not have friends or family who know the ins and outs of college life.”

Envisioned by Casey Jo Dufresne of the College’s Loeb Center for Career Exploration and Planning and Tenzin Kunor of the Office of Campus Diversity and Student Leadership, it featured sessions on communications skills, identity and more.

“Every student comes here with a toolbox of skills,” says Dufresne, “and every student needs different tools, or their particular tools sharpened. The population we serve might need a more specialized set of tools, or direction on how to use their particular tools within our community. My goal was that the Institute do some or all of those things.”

In the process, says Kunor, the sessions generated pride and showed students that there are others in the Amherst community—students, faculty, staff and alumni—who share similar backgrounds and experiences.

“College for us is uncharted territory,” says Bryan Miller ’19, who not only took part in the event but helped to organize and facilitate it. “In many instances, we do not have friends or family who know the ins and outs of college life. I think the Institute, in some ways, might have helped us find our own family here on campus.”