Hiram College

jefferson-lisa-profA new mentoring program, Connect2Complete, will help build community and connections for first generation and Pell eligible students at Hiram College this year.

The program is part of a larger, federally funded initiative focused on providing resources and peer support for these students. The Connect2Complete program is being implemented on campuses in three states: Florida, Ohio and Washington. Hiram College is one of ten campuses in Ohio to be a part of this elite program.

Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, AmeriCorps VISTA member Alicia Jefferson will work directly with first year, first generation students. She will co-facilitate peer advocacy outreach initiatives and get students involved in the community. The program will also help new students adjust  to and feel more at ease with the transition into college life.

During the Commencement ceremony this past May, Jefferson, a member of the Class of 2013, commented “I would love to work for Hiram,” as she watched the professors processioning in.

A fellow student overheard her, and a few connections later, she interviewed for Hiram’s AmeriCorps position and was offered the opportunity to influence and be involved with the concerns of student retention through civic engagement, community involvement and peer advocacy.

The central idea of C2C is to get students connected and anchored within the community so that they can navigate and succeed in their college environment. With the completion of her training this summer through AmeriCorps VISTA, Jefferson is prepared to fulfill this important role and serve the incoming class.

In preparing for the upcoming year, Jefferson recalled the obstacles and distractions of her earlier days as an 18-year-old undergraduate at Cleveland State University. She feels confident that having these experiences has made her keenly sensitive to how bright and gifted students can easily become sidetracked and have their dreams deferred.

The benefit of a successful marriage and raising a family afforded her the opportunity to complete Hiram’s Professional and Graduate Studies program, fulfilling her dream of finishing her education.

“Alicia’s personal experience, compassion and enthusiasm will make her a great addition to our leadership team,” said Detra West, Associate Dean of Students. “She is very approachable, creative and will relate well with the students. She is a perfect fit for this program.”

Jefferson said she plans to draw from her own personal experience as she mentors Hiram College students.

“As a young adults, it’s common to encounter issues and situations; it can be difficult navigating through issues while attempting to decide the right way to go,” she said. “When you have difficulty discussing important personal things, you may be prone to making poor decisions. But if you have someone who truly cares, it increase the likelihood of making better decisions and choices.

“I think if a program similar to C2C existed when I was 18 years old, I would have been more successful by not delaying the decision to finish school.”

Each of the campuses participating in C2C will have its own unique approach to the program, but all will involve peer mentoring/advocacy and civic engagement. On campuses where C2C has implemented pilot programs, these activities have shown retention rates for Pell eligible students increase from 15 percent to 70 percent.

“Retention rates are a lot higher when you get students actively involved in the community because they are more likely to feel a sense of belonging, and anyone who gives back feels as if they have an essential role within the environment,” Jefferson said. “For a first generation student in particular, being at college and away from home for the first time can be incredibly shocking.”

There’s an opportunity for upperclassmen to get involved in the program as well. Jefferson and West will be co-teaching a Peer Mentoring/Advocacy class to train those students who will serve as peer mentors in the C2C program.

“A peer mentor is advantageous because the students can relate to one another with added ease,” Jefferson said. “You have someone who’s similar in age and who has overcome similar difficulties. They can offer constructive suggestions and support according to each individual’s needs – such as referring them to a social club, tips on how to write a term paper, career services or who to talk to for academic tutoring and advice.”

During the first weeks of the Fall 2013 semester, Jefferson will be speaking and planning programs and informational events. She is excited to meet new students and has hopes of making a difference.

“I’m very passionate about college-aged students because after recalling the things I went through, I can now use my past struggles and obstacles as a vehicle to help someone else feel good about who they are and what they’re doing towards obtaining their future here at Hiram,” she said.