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Men Moving Mountains Helps Minority Males Achieve College Success

By Reyna Gobel

How one college uses motivational interviewing to help minority males achieve their personal, academic and professional goals.

Moving the needle on completion is a challenge for community colleges.

That challenge gets even tougher when you start talking about minority students, especially minority males, who have traditionally struggled compared with their classmates, to graduate college.

As Ron Giddings, director of academic advising at Davidson County Community College (DCCC) in North Carolina, points out many of those struggles have deep historical roots.

“Minority males who feel the pressure of historical feelings about men of color, either perceived discrimination or feeling like their peers, don’t think they’re as capable of completing their education,” says Giddings.

To improve outcomes for minority males, Giddings teamed up with Kim Sepich, DCCC’s vice president of students affairs, to revive the Men Moving Mountains program. The effort pairs participating minority male students at the college with a personal coach dedicated to helping students realize their personal, educational and professional goals.

How it works: The program relies on a concept called motivational interviewing, a process of asking questions that enable students to draw conclusions about challenges or roadblocks in their personal lives that could prevent them from achieving their academic goals.

For instance, if a student is having financial aid issues, a coach might ask, “How will you manage your refund? Do you have some other goals or intentions for using the refund?” says Giddings.

Other topics discussed during meetings with coaches include navigating personal roadblocks, academic and career goal setting, how to stay on an educational pathway that leads to graduation and the process of choosing a major.

Finding a good match: Experience has shown that students can benefit from personal coaching. But, as Giddings explains it, the relationship only works if the college hires the right coach. DCCC looks for several qualifications in a good coach, including higher education experience and the ability to relate to the students. Coaches should also demonstrate the ability to build relationships with faculty and other stakeholders on campus—so that they can connect students with the help they need. Coaches also should have a knack for reaching out to and talking with students. It’s important that students feel comfortable opening up to their advisers about challenges they face, both in life and in school. And it’s not just about the students. Coaches also need to be able to interact with family members and friends who understand students’ needs and can provide additional support.

Getting students to participate: Of course, the program only works if students want to participate.

To put the word out, Tisha Jackson, who coaches minority male students on DCCC’s campus, set up information booths in the student union and providing faculty with referral cards for students who they thought could use extra help. Participants range from students who need remedial coursework to high-achievers.

So far, at least, those efforts are paying off:

Between the 2012-2013 and the 2013-2014 school years, enrollment in the DCCC’s Men Moving Mountains program increased from 11 to 71 students. Students who have participated in the program have gone on to win seats in the student government and become active in other campus activities and organizations. Still more have gone on to earn associate degrees or successfully transfer to four-year colleges, where they have found continued success.

Looking to launch a support system for minority students on your campus? Giddings offers the following tips for colleges:

  1. Focus on finding the right coach.
  2. Recruit potential participants during the admissions and orientation process. Get advice from the college marketing department about how to attract students to the program.
  3. Include the following: face-to-face individual coaching sessions, opportunities for educational and personal exploration, and an emphasis on academic persistence.
  4. Be aware of the myriad academic and life challenges that minority students face.
  5. Empower students to find their own solutions and manage negative thoughts.
  6. Remember, it’s a community effort. Get friends and family involved in the coaching process.
  7. Refer students to other on-campus offices such as financial aid, career services and advising when needed.

Want more guidance on serving minority students at your college? It’s worth revisiting Part III of the American Association of Community Colleges Reclaiming the American Dream: Community Colleges and the Nation’s Future report. That section, “Redefining the Community College,” illustrates the “equity challenge” that the nation’s community colleges face and provides a framework for moving forward.

Reyna Gobel

is a contributor to the 21st-Century Center.

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