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Calvin Unveils New Program
February 27 , 2007

A distinctive mentoring program at Calvin College will address the sophomore slump for a heretofore underserved student population.

Calvin’s Multicultural Student Development Office has received a $10,000 grant from the DaimlerChrysler Corporation to expand its Ambassador Peer Mentoring program, an effort centered on students of African American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American (AHANA) descent. The grant comes from DaimlerChrysler’s Minority Retention Award program.

The expanded mentoring effort will allow Calvin to encourage AHANA students during the sophomore year, a time that researchers have pinpointed as a pivotal point in the college career.

MSDO Logo"Sophomore year is a time when for a number of reasons -- academic, social, financial, vocational or just institutional fit -- students tend to give up on college," says Calvin's Jacque Rhodes. "It is especially difficult for AHANA students because of the pressures they face from being a minority presence in a predominately white institution."

Traditional retention efforts, she notes, tend to focus on first-year students.

"Our efforts are very intentional toward supporting freshmen, and that’s typical of colleges," she explains. "They frontload first-year students with resources and support and hope that these students can fend for themselves from that point forward. We have a successful program in place for first-year AHANA students, and we expanded it to address this issue of sophomore retention."

Ten junior and senior minority students will be chosen as student mentors or "ambassadors" through the program. They will attend a Sophomore Summit prior to the 2007-2008 academic year. There they will they will learn how to identify potential at-risk indicators in academic and social behavior, discuss logistics for continuing the mentoring relationship beyond the summit and be introduced to the strengths-based approach to learning.

Thirty sophomore AHANA students will also attend the summit, which is planned as the kickoff of the mentoring relationship. The 30 students will be assigned in groups to each mentor.

Integral to the expanded mentoring effort is the Clifton Strengths Finder, an assessment tool that allows students to pinpoint their talents and develop them through academic, leadership and career opportunities. Both mentors and mentees will take the StrengthsFinder and develop goals throughout the sophomore year based on their various strengths.

"The strengths assessment will give Ambassador leaders another conversation point of entry but also tools to assist in developing the sophomore students who will participate as mentees," says Andrea Granderson-Kitomary, a Calvin counselor and director of the Celebrating Strengths project, which, through a $83,618 grant from the Select Student Support Services (4S) Program administered by the State of Michigan, is pioneering the use of the StrengthsFinder in several Calvin departments and offices.

Rhodes is excited by the potential benefits of the program to AHANA sophomores.

"We're relying on what the experts say,” she notes. “They say that community and a sense of investment on the part of the institution, these are the things that retain students. The expanded Ambassador program will build that for our AHANA students."

She is also enthusiastic about the benefits of the program for the ambassadors who will participate in it.

"There are so many AHANA students who want to pursue leadership but who don’t necessarily fit into the traditional Calvin leadership roles,” Rhodes says. “They will now have the chance to serve the college in a new capacity.”

~written by Calvin staff writer Myrna Anderson

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