The R.I.S.E. (Retain, Involve, Strengthen, Excel) Mentorship program

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 15 percent of U.S. college students are students of color. While learning to navigate college life can be tough for anyone, these students may face specific and unique concerns. They may find that they rarely – or never – encounter anyone from their neighborhood, city, region or nation. They may be first in their families to attend college, and may run into conflicting expectations, both internal and external, to either represent or downplay their cultures. They may end up feeling simultaneously conspicuous and alone. By Leah Samuel In 2011, Shamin Mason ’13, a resident advisor, created R.I.S.E. (Retain, Involve, Strengthen, Excel) – a mentorship and support program designed to ease minority students’ transition to life at Chatham.

Kimberlee Small, coordinator of residence life, was one of the first staff members involved in the founding of R.I.S.E. “Shamin was watching the students of color disappear during their first year here,” she says. “They were coming in at the beginning of their first year and were gone by May. We wanted this to be about helping students so they don’t feel they have to transfer away from Chatham.”

R.I.S.E. focuses on helping students find a place for themselves in the Chatham community. To do this, incoming students, or mentees, are paired with student mentors.

NORA Moorefield ’17, who is majoring in mathematics, was mentored during her first year. “R.I.S.E. connected me to other women of color,” she says. “There are not many of us here, so it’s nice to see other people like you. I’m not shy, but I don’t really reach out to people in friendship that much. R.I.S.E. makes it easier to do that.”

Now Moorefield is a mentor. “It’s a relationship,” she says. “We have a connection. We have lunch together or get together for academic work or recreational activities. And some of us take mentees to campus events.”

R.I.S.E. hosts its own events, too – dinners and receptions, social nights with movies, attending sports events, participating in “R.I.S.E., Shine and Study” on Sundays. Program participants are encouraged to bring friends they make on campus to these events, which are open to everyone.  

R.I.S.E. participants connect Chatham faculty and staff who serve as “Net members” – so called because their involvement is meant to create a safety net for R.I.S.E. participants. They help R.I.S.E. students with paperwork and other practical matters, and prepare them for the pace and culture of student life, which may be unfamiliar to firstgeneration college students. Net members also commit to making themselves available to listen to and advocate for R.I.S.E. students.

But while it offers a space for students of color to find understanding and support, R.I.S.E. is not merely a place of refuge from the wider university community. It can create the college experience that students of color want, and that cultural differences create meaningful challenges, not insurmountable barriers. Small adds: “We want our students to be leaders. I want them to lead the charge in solving a problem or reaching a goal. We try very hard to make sure that students don’t feel isolated. But you also really have to commit to the program, to say, ‘I need a mentor.’”

This story, written by Leah Samuel, initially appeared in the Winter 2014 Recorder alumni magazine.