Standing in the Gap: Male Student Success Initiative Mentors’ Experiences with Men of Color

MSSI Mentors: Reflections on Serving Men of Color

Smiling Black male college student

This is the second installment in a Q&A series highlighting the experiences of success mentors at the Community College of Baltimore County and the students of color they support as part of the Male Student Success Initiative. See the first installment in the series.

The College Completion Network’s MDRC research team is conducting an efficacy evaluation of the Male Student Success Initiative (MSSI) at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) as part of the Men of Color College Achievement Project (MoCCA). Students participating in MSSI enroll in a culturally contextualized section of CCBC’s college orientation course, Academic Development 101: Transitioning to College (ACDV 101) and are paired with a success mentor.

Rashida Welbeck head shot In this second installment of the Q&A series, “Standing in the Gap: MSSI Mentors’ Experiences with Men of Color,” Rashida Welbeck, project director of MoCCA, asks three MSSI success mentors to share their perspectives on the students they serve.

Welbeck: What strengths do MSSI students bring to CCBC as men of color?

Markton Cole head shot

Markton D. Cole, MSSI Success Mentor & ACDV 101 Instructor, Catonsville Campus: Just their very presence is a strong attribute, particularly here in Baltimore. The fact that they educate themselves, come make themselves present, and fight against the stereotypes is a testament to that. The fact that they are here and show up speaks to that.

Victor Uchendu head shotVictor C. Uchendu Jr., MSSI Success Mentor, Essex Campus: The fact that they are still willing to be engaged in the MSSI program even after they have finished the [ACDV 101 course and their first] semester is good, and it makes an impact on newer students.

Welbeck: What are some of the biggest challenges that your students face?

Julian Cuffie head shotJulian Cuffie, MSSI Success Mentor & ACDV 101 Instructor, Owings Mills Campus: For my students, it's been balancing work, life, school, and their pride. A lot of my students have never been able to ask people for help. A lot of them were failing or doing poorly in some of their classes because they didn't ask their teachers or other MSSI students for help. No matter how comfortable they felt around us, they didn't ask us for help. Some students are proud because they've always had to fend for themselves, you know? Some of them have had to do things their way, and they don't know how to ask for help.

Uchendu: Julian brings up a very important point about asking for help. We didn't know some students were failing a class until the very last minute even though we asked them in the mentoring sessions how they were doing. They gave us answers they thought we wanted to hear, but then we came to find out later on that, “Oh, you know what, I'm not turning in those assignments and have not done this extra credit for homework and I'm not getting the grades I thought I should be getting.” A lot of times it's just not asking for help and believing that asking for help is something you should be ashamed of. It’s important to let them know that we are here to guide them through this process, and that nobody has all the answers.

Cole: Work-life balance is something we hear across the board with all students. That's very specific to commuter students and continues to be a big challenge for them.

Welbeck: Student engagement is an ongoing challenge for many student support service programs like MSSI. Sometimes it’s difficult to keep students plugged into program services and activities. What are some ways you mitigate these challenges?

Uchendu: For me personally, it's the continuation of phone calls and text messages to remind students of the many upcoming events or just checking in on them. Everyone has a busy schedule, and if you don’t put out reminders, especially with young people, they may forget. This is not intentional sometimes. There’s just a lot of other things going on. I found that it's useful to reach out to them as much as I can during the semester.

Cole: I have a couple of students who have trailed off towards the end of last semester. I reached out directly through classroom outreach, direct calls, and you try to do that as best you can. A lot of times what we find out is that the student has suffered an illness or has withdrawn from the college. But you try to pull all the tricks out of your hat and try to reach them. Unfortunately, sometimes it’s to no avail, but direct campus outreach has been the most helpful in doing case management.

Cuffie: I think that we make the class more appealing by adding our own twist so the students are more engaged. We have to make it very relevant to them, and that's why we added a financial literacy component. We live in a very tech, social media age, so I think that promotion through those avenues helps a lot. When you make the events and trips insightful to the students, that helps because they don't want to sit through another lecture. Earlier in the semester, we had a “meet and greet” and that was really good because students were able to engage with the panelists, who dropped a lot of gems. The students were able to give their perspectives and actually drop gems for us as well. You make it, to an extent, where we are learning from them too and you give them that space and freedom to build their confidence. I feel that entices them to come. Also, they love free food!

This blog post is the second in a three-part series. See the first installment in the series and stay tuned for the final installment!

MDRC's Men of Color College Achievement Project research team is affiliated with the College Completion Network. Learn more about the team’s Male Student Success Initiative study. This project is funded through grant R305N160026 from the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.