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

MSSI Mentors: Reflections on Who We Are and Who We Mentor

Black man mentoring a Black male college student

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

Mentorship is a vital component of most college success programs for men of color. The Male Student Success Initiative (MSSI), a five-year-old program at the Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC), is designed to assist male students of color throughout their academic journey by providing wraparound supports and striving to foster a community of men of color.

Students participating in the program enroll in a culturally contextualized section of CCBC’s college orientation course, Academic Development 101: Transitioning to College (ACDV 101). In addition, program participants are paired with a success mentor, a CCBC staff member who also identifies as a male of color. Drawing from their own educational training and professional experiences, success mentors help MSSI participants navigate life as students at CCBC and balance their academics and campus engagement with the realities of their personal lives.

Rashida Welbeck head shot The College Completion Network’s MDRC research team is conducting an efficacy evaluation of the MSSI program model as part of the Men of Color College Achievement Project (MoCCA). In this first installment of a new Q&A series, Standing in the Gap: MSSI Mentors’ Experiences with Men of Color, Rashida Welbeck, project director of MoCCA, asks three success mentors to reflect on what their role means to them and what they see in the students they serve.

Welbeck: Tell us about yourself. What brought you to MSSI? What were you doing before you joined the MSSI team?

Victor Uchendu head shotVictor C. Uchendu, MSSI Success Mentor, Essex Campus : My background has been in child welfare, and I worked as a case manager for the Maryland Department of Social Services for about 24 years before I retired. Part of that involved dealing with youth, teenagers ages 16 to 21 that were coming out of the foster care system. I had the privilege of visiting the high schools, colleges, and universities where a lot of our clients were located, so this gave me the opportunity to reach out and be a mentor and advocate for these students who were primarily first-generation or first in their families to go to college. This is a great opportunity for me to be an ambassador for those students.

Julian Cuffie head shotJulian Cuffie, MSSI Success Mentor & ACDV 101 Instructor, Owings Mills Campus: I recently graduated in May 2019 and have been working with MSSI for about approximately six months. Once I heard about the job opportunity, I jumped at it expeditiously and wholeheartedly. It's been very enriching for me to help young men of color, especially since we're close in age and I understand what they are going though since I just graduated from college. I worked at CCBC for about five years before the MSSI program as a lab assistant in enrollment services. I've taken those skills that I've learned from enrollment services into the program, and I've learned a lot from my own bachelor’s experience into the program as well.

Markton Cole head shotMarkton D. Cole, MSSI Success Mentor & ACDV 101 Instructor, Catonsville Campus: I have previously taught courses with a focus on men of color and got word that there was an opportunity to revamp the men of color cohort, and I was asked if I was interested in working along with the redeveloped program. I said I was definitely interested in working with the redeveloped MSSI program given my work background in education, particularly involved in initiatives with men of color. I've been working in education approximately 25 plus years and have worked in various aspects of education in both the for-profit and nonprofit sector. I’ve consulted training and education programs with teachers and administrators, and it's something that continues to go within my field of work and is part of my passion in education.

Welbeck: What does it mean to you to be a success mentor?

Uchendu: For me personally, it means to be an extra set of support for students who may or may not know where various resources are and be able to guide and direct them to those resources and have them come to me for any concerns, whether it's academic or personally related, so I can best help them navigate their college experience.

Cole: Having worked as a consultant, I kind of see it in the same vein, so I really take that consultative approach when working with students. It’s really consulting them in their path, particularly within the classroom. We’ve developed touch points and guide students through mentoring sessions. I let students guide the mentoring session in terms of what they need. It's kind of individual to the student and then based on my experiences, depending on what they need, I share my experience and hopefully, they can take something away from that.

Cuffie: To me, being a success mentor means to make sure that the students we are working with have all the tools, necessities, and resources that the college provides and add a touch of our own personal experiences to make sure the students have ample advice and wisdom to achieve at the highest level possible and being able to relate to the students on a deeper emotional level. I believe that being a success mentor is also being able to connect and make a bond of brotherhood.

Welbeck: Tell us more about your students. Who are they?

Cole: Here at the Catonsville Campus, they come from various backgrounds and socioeconomic levels, so they don't all fall in “one” socioeconomic bracket. In terms of men of color, the majority would probably be of African American descent, and we do have a couple of students who are Latino and Pacific Islander as well. In terms of age range, that would vary. I have one student who is still in high school. Ages range from 16 to mid-30s.

Cuffie: We work with a lot of students that come from this community. I've also seen that many of the students we work with come from single-parent households, and most of them are receiving federal financial aid, so they are taking either loans or grants. If they can't do that, they pay for the tuition themselves. Some of my students have disabilities, and so I have been able to work with them through the disability paperwork process.

This blog post is the first in a three-part series. Stay tuned for upcoming installments!

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.