After serving four years at Westminster College, Daniel Cairo will be transferring to a new position at the University of Utah. One of his most notable achievements is creating the Legacy Program: A community that allows first-generation college students to experience their “firsts” together.
The program is designed to provide mentorship to first-generation students, especially those who come from low-income or traditionally-underrepresented groups. Through the mentorship program, students can receive guidance on how to navigate the challenges of college.
“It would have been way too much of a culture shock to just be in the Westminster community at large without my legacy cohort,” said Anthony Giorgio, a junior in the Legacy Program. “Our parents won’t get it the same way, they don’t get what we are dealing with.”
Cairo initiated the program in 2016, when there were only eight students among the first cohort. This year, there are 100 members within the program.
As a first-generation student himself, Cairo said he understood the challenges those in the Legacy Program face. That shared experience helped create a more authentic experience, some students said.
“To have that kind of person in leadership has opened a lot of doors for myself and a lot of other Legacy Scholars,” said Tabitha Edson, student coordinator of the Westminster Legacy Program. “To me, he is the strongest advocate for students that we can have on campus and I think his lived experiences have made him that way.”
Creating that sense of community has always been his goal since he stepped foot on campus, according to Cairo. As part of that, he’s advocated for diversity and inclusion across campus.
“I believe in my core that there is a place for everybody here at Westminster,” Cairo told The Forum. “It may take a little bit together, but we have created a community where people can find like-minded individuals and unlike-minded individuals who they can make connections [with] and eventually create a community.”
Although college can be daunting, Cairo said he wants the program to continue encouraging students to “take up space” and enjoy the journey.
“College is such an important time in people’s lives and development,” he said. “I want them to know to slow down and enjoy as much as they can from their learning so that they are experiencing it in a way that is really nourishing.”
During his time at Westminster, Cairo has stepped into several positions — serving as the interim dean of students for the Fall 2020 semester. He took the position after Karnell McConnell-Black announced his departure in June.
“In his short time on the President’s Cabinet as Interim Dean, Dan made a positive impact through his leadership and expertise,” President Beth Dobkin said in an email sent out to campus. “Particularly in managing the complexities of student life in the time of Covid while continuing to advocate for student inclusion and success.”
Cairo will transfer to the University of Utah to serve as the special assistant to the vice president for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion. His last day at Westminster will be Oct. 30.
“What I hope people remember me for is that we have been able to create a lot of momentum around issues of inclusion for marginalized communities,” Cairo said. “As well as really bringing to light what it means to be the first one in your family to attend college.”