Tue. Jan 18th, 2022

The first word that comes to mind when we think of the Office of Multicultural Affairs is home. There’s a sense of relief, comfort, and acceptance as soon as you walk under those big gold letters: “Multicultural Center.”

Those two doors, which are always open, represent the open arms of every individual in the office. When coming into a new environment and leaving your family, a sense of home is always settling. Just as a warm home cooked meal such as “Home Zone” may fulfill your craving for home, the OMA does this for almost every multicultural student at West Chester University.

Just as in every home, there is a family, and the Office of Multicultural Affairs is a family comprised of students and staff who keep the “household” functioning.

From Jerome (Skip) Hutson the Director, to Quireda Lugo, the Mentoring Coordinator and Associate Director, Graduate Assistants Jairo Henao and Kaila Hamdani, and the 23 Peer Mentors, the Office of Multicultural Affairs is one large extended family built on pride and a desire to help the continued success of the not only the Mentoring Program, but every multicultural student.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs strives and achieves its continued legacy to produce the most intelligent, well-rounded, respectable, independent, and skillful multicultural students.

The individuals responsible for supporting these students are twenty-three of the most dedicated, involved, and selfless students who are known as – Peer Mentors.

The Mentoring Program was formed in 1994 by Jerome (Skip) Hutson and Rochelle Peterson to improve the retention, student engagement, and graduation rates for multicultural students at West Chester University. At its onset, it consisted of two components: a mentee and a volunteer, faculty/staff mentor. Two years later, Dr. Kendrick Mickens added a third component, the Peer Mentors. The Peer Mentors created an unique aspect and the essential reason of the program’s continued success.

Although the group of Peer Mentors changes every year, their roles and the purpose remains the same: to assist first-year and transfer students of African, Asian, Latino, and Native American (multicultural) descent in making a successful transition to WCU and to empower them by providing guidance, information, and support throughout their initial year of enrollment.

The job of a Peer Mentor is not an easy task. Each and every one of them wears a number of “hats” throughout the day whether it is inside or outside of the classroom; mentors put forth great effort to ensure the success of each of their mentees.

The efforts extended by each mentor have produced remarkable effects. Several mentees have expressed that the mentorship has been very influential to their initial attitudes and success at West Chester University.

Others have shared that the mentorship program has filled the void they feel being away from their home, friends, and families. Some of the other benefits for mentees are as follows: enhanced academic performance, a smooth transition to campus, increased networking skills, the connection to positive role models, and an increased awareness of resources.

Reginald McGee, a current mentee, summarized these benefits: “If I were not a part of this program then I would not be in an environment where I am able learn from other positive students. Becoming a mentee was one of the best decisions I ever made.”

Although there are many benefits for mentees, it is not a one way street. The mentors themselves have expressed that they have a new sense of fulfillment and purpose in serving as a Peer Mentor.

Peer Mentors also experience the benefits of enhancing their leadership skills, giving back to the community, serving as a resource, and preventing others from making the mistakes they may have made as a first-year student. The program is a complete life lesson for all involved. During an interview with Peer Mentor Isiah Allen, he expressed his enjoyment in his role and espoused, “It’s a good feeling being that one person someone can depend on. Many students do not have a parent or friend they can go to so I try to keep that in mind. I set expectations for my mentees and when they meet those expectations, it’s a great feeling.”

Although it is rewarding, it is also not to be forgotten that Peer Mentors are also full-time students while being responsible for eight to ten or more mentees!

Peer Mentor Regena Clay shared, “Although the job is very demanding, the results which emerge from the program, makes every demand worth it.”

Because the job of a Peer Mentor places great importance and influence, it takes a special person to be granted this opportunity.

There is an extensive interview process and a minimum credit and GPA requirement. More importantly, potential mentors must be in good judicial standing and demonstrate positivity, honesty, maturity, good communication skills, and flexibility.

Considering the Peer Mentor Program’s high expectations, devoted individuals, and a efforts towards continuous improvement, it’s no wonder that each year the OMA’s Peer Mentoring Program exceeds its expectations and continues to serve as a catalyst for ensuring the future success of West Chester University.

One reason for the continued improvement is the Office of Multicultural Affairs continuous use of data to track progress, evaluate programs and practices, and use that information to make enhancements to the mentor program.

Given the fact that this school year marks the highest number of mentees ever certainly demonstrates the Peer Mentoring Program has reached new heights in its efforts to expand and improve.

Peer Mentor Zan Chaudhary shares what he has envisions for the mentoring program’s future: “I see a lot more mentees coming in, from a variety of backgrounds. As the program continues we figure out what works and what doesn’t so the improvement of the program is a embedded in our day to day practices.”

The next time you enter Sykes and go down those stairs and see those two large welcoming doors, think of all the individual stories from prior mentees and mentors including that of Jairo Henao, Graduate Assistant of the Office of Multicultural Affairs who shared his own journey from mentee, to mentor, to Graduate Assistant.

In gratitude, Mr. Henao stated, “I don’t think if I had not started here as a mentee, I would be in this position. It is a one year program but once you make those mentee/mentor bonds, it is a long life relationship.”

There are numerous success stories just like Henao’s and many more still being written.

Perhaps you will consider becoming a mentor or recommending an incoming student to become a mentee and you too can write your own story of service and success.

Congratulations to the Office of Multicultural Affairs Peer Mentoring Program on your incredible 261 mentees.

May nothing but more success and achievements come your way!

Cheyenne Dantzler is a student majoring in women and gender studies. She can be reached at CD804210@wcupa.edu.

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