Chris Mitchell by a flowering tree in front of the Humanities Building

Paying it forward

April 16, 2024

Being the first in your family to go to college requires determination. Chris Mitchell demonstrated just that when, as a high school senior, he researched and applied to some 30 colleges and countless scholarships. Ultimately, he chose University of Richmond for its top-tier ranking and its generous financial aid that negated his need for student loans.

Now the first-generation, Afro-Latino college student is paying it forward. He shares his knowledge about preparing for, applying to, and experiencing college with Latinx high school students participating in a nonprofit college-access program.  

“I learned about the Scholars Latino Initiative my freshman year when I took Leadership 101 with Dr. Peter Kaufman, who founded SLI,” said the leadership studies senior. “I wanted to be involved with community on and off campus, so I started volunteering as a SLI mentor at the beginning of my sophomore year.”

SLI pairs college mentors with Latinx high school students of a parallel grade level, with the goal of maintaining the mentoring relationship throughout their respective college and high school years. Mitchell meets regularly with SLI participants Jason and Bryan, who are considering community college and a career in the Marines, respectively.

“I help them think not only about college, scholarships, and career paths, but also about healthy lifestyles and personal finance,” said Mitchell, the Richmond SLI chapter president this year. “Sometimes I make my favorite dish, creamy Tuscan chicken pasta, and have them over for dinner at my campus apartment. It’s rewarding to be able to give them the kind of advice I wish I had received.”

Even as he helps others think about their futures, the senior from Henrico County, Virginia, thinks about his own. As a high school student, he considered an engineering career, but now has settled on law.

“If there’s one thing I like more than solving math equations, it’s arguing,” he said with an easy-going laugh. “Leaderships studies classes, like my Critical Thinking class with Dr. Price, taught me the basic structure of argumentation, persuasion, and productive resolution.”

He received a Gilman Scholarship to attend Jepson at Cambridge, the Jepson School of Leadership Studies' study-abroad program at the University of Cambridge, in summer 2023. There he took classes in comparative UK-US law and international law.

“It was my first time outside the U.S. and one of my top experiences at college,” Mitchell said. “I never anticipated doing something like that. Being in such a historic institution felt inspiring, and it was great to be in another country and meet people from around the world.”

As he prepares for graduation next month, he is applying for paralegal positions. He plans to work for a year or two before heading to law school. In the meantime, the Richmond SLI chapter president, who also served as president of the University’s Black Student Alliance this year, said he will continue to find ways to build community.

“I like bringing people together and meeting new people. Community is something people struggle to find, and I want to hold those spaces going forward. The most rewarding part of my work with SLI has been helping high school students figure out what they want to do.”