NWTC mentors help boost graduation rates

December 9, 2013

From greenbaypressgazette.com: “NWTC offers mentors to minority students to help boost grad rates” — Maria Almanza is studying to be a medical assistant at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College.

As a busy first-year college student, the 21-year-old mother of two said she appreciates the help of mentor Alana Dallas, who talks to her about her studies and navigating the community college campus.

They are part of a new Peer Mentor program designed to help minority students succeed in school. The new program, launched in October with help from a state grant, aims to increase success by offering a variety of academic, social and personal support.

“Not only does this program provide important support to keep students successful and in school, but it gives our student mentors a chance to give back,” said Gema Garcia, program coordinator. “These students have been there and they know what’s it’s like. They’re here to provide guidance to their fellow students to help them overcome any hurdles they might face.”

NWTC’s program has 10 mentors who are helping 20 students this semester. Mentors are students who have been in school for at least a semester. Mentors were chosen for their commitment and willingness to support students as they transition to college, Garcia said. They must meet grade-point average requirements and are fully trained.

Minority students lag a bit behind other students in terms of grades and graduation rates, noted Vickie Lock, dean of student success at NWTC.

In 2012-13 about 64,000 white students were enrolled at NWTC, and 82.46 percent of them received passing grades of A, B or C. The school had 8,200 minority students that year, and 74 percent of them had passing grades.

“That’s a 5.81 percent gap that we really want to close,” Lock said.

Minority students may fall behind because they did not take adequate courses in high school and often are the first in their families to attend college, so may lack home support, she said. They may be low-income, which means they have to work one or several jobs, she said.

“All of these are factors that lead to a harder time achieving,” Lock said.

Mentors can help by providing support families may not be able to provide, she said.

Blaire Xiong, a student in the administrative professional program and a peer mentor, said the mentor relationship is an opportunity to lead by example.

“We may have come from similar backgrounds as many of the mentees, “ Xiong said. “But because we’ve already been here and know what’s available, I think we can really help them succeed.”

The peer mentor program is part of a larger NWTC initiative focusing on helping more students graduate, Lock said.

Almanza’s mentor recently guided her through preparing a resume and cover letter for a class, she said. She plans to graduate in December 2014.

“The mentorship program … makes sure you have more self confidence. Once you are feeling confident, you start doing things better, in my opinion,” Almanza said.

Some minority students may struggle if English is not their first language, she said.

“Also, high school is easier,” said Almanza, who graduated from Green Bay’s East High School. “College can be pressure. If you have someone else to cheer for you and is there for you, it makes you more likely to be successful.”

Those in the program participate as along as they feel they need help. Lock hopes students who are being mentored eventually will become mentors.

“We are looking at, do they stay enrolled? Do they complete?” she said. “We’re also looking for some intangibles, such as, ‘Do students really feel connected to college? Are they reaching out to other students?’ I think those would be important pieces for us to see.”



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