It only took one year for Project H.O.M.E. to progress from a trial project to a fully implemented program. Now, in its third year, the mentorship program for students of color has produced a spinoff that will offer students a designated support person in many campus departments.
Project H.O.M.E. (Hope, Opportunity, Mentorship and Education) was a natural fit for its director, Dr. Crystal Sellers Battle, who had done similar work while pursuing her doctoral degree at The Ohio State University.
Bluffton's program encourages first-year students of color to become better oriented to the university community both academically and socially with the goal of increasing their retention and academic success. Incoming students are matched with upperclass mentors. The mentors and mentees get together at least twice a month, often for events to acquaint the new students with the campus, as well as the surrounding, community.
At the same time, mentors are matched with alumni of color who serve as the students' mentors as they prepare to move into the professional world.
According to Battle, the initial project has quickly become "exactly the program I hoped it would be," noting that 80-85 percent of mentees have returned to Bluffton the following year. Helping the cause, she points out, has been the support of the university's athletics department and the success of events sponsored by the campus Office of Multicultural Affairs. "The connections that students are making there is important," she adds.
Many mentees have volunteered to be mentors the next year, "so something good is happening within the first year that makes them want to stay involved," the director says. "I hear 'this is useful to me,' 'this is helping me,'" she adds, but has still been somewhat surprised, she admits, by "how connected they stay beyond the first year."
Interest in mentoring first-year students spread to faculty and staff to the extent that, as of this fall, individuals can volunteer as a Mentor Advocate Person (M.A.P.). In this new program, most campus departments have designated at least one representative to serve as a resource person for new students, a role that can include inviting students to department activities and even a home-cooked meal. Students know who those faculty and staff members are by signs outside their offices.
The program was developed, she says, after she received phone calls and emails from faculty and staff saying, "We really want to help students. Is there something I can do?"
"The M.A.P. program provides one more opportunity for someone embedded in the culture to be a support person," Battle says. And, she adds, "if I'm helping a student, I'm making my life as a faculty member better."