10:15 AM

African-American Male Mentorship Program Provides Encouragement, Second Chances for Students

By: Claire Caton

Many students at UHD are the first in their families to attend college and some come from backgrounds far from conducive to an education and economic or professional success. A program at the University is working to change that - one African-American male at a time.

Trevor Jones, an alumnus and undergraduate advisor at UHD, knows firsthand the challenges of overcoming both hardships and peer pressure when breaking out of a negative personal environment. Based on his experience - as well as the fact that college graduation rates for African-American men are historically low across the nation - Jones founded UHD's African-American Male Mentorship Program (AAMMP) to offer these students the support they need to succeed.

"My main message to students in the AAMMP program is, 'Refuse to let your circumstances dictate your future,'" said Jones. "I'm 33 and to this day, I've never met my biological father. But I was blessed to have a very supportive grandfather who taught me the importance of a positive male role model in a young man's life. Many of our students come from similar home situations, but have never known a single positive male role model. I work with African-American students who also face multiple challenges of raising younger siblings and working full time or in multiple jobs while trying to earn a college degree."

AAMMP brings prominent African-American community leaders to campus for roundtable discussions, enabling members to witness the speakers' success firsthand and gather tools to set and reach their own professional and personal goals. The program also serves as an on-campus resource for students, many of whom struggle with uncertainties about college life and how to successfully navigate the challenges of higher education.

John Franklin, a UHD junior and AAMMP member, is one such student who has benefitted greatly from the program's faculty- and peer-mentoring. When he first began classes, he faced daunting academic challenges and needed direction and support to raise his grade point average. Now, three years after joining AAMMP, he has significantly raised his GPA and recently received an award for having overcome the most of any program member.

"Before I joined the AAMMP program, I'd never had a positive male role model in my life," said Franklin. "It felt so great to have men in my life for the first time that I admired to guide me. Through the AAMMP program, I got an internship at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and got to work with curators and ancient artifacts from China and Egypt. Now, I'm looking forward to hopefully working at the Smithsonian Museum once I graduate next spring with my degree in history."

Chris Birchak, dean of University College and a faculty advisor for AAMMP, works closely with program leaders and lauds the work of staff in UHD's Advising Center and Student Affairs in supporting AAMMP students. "I've personally seen great academic improvement in the lives of AAMMP members and this is due, in large part, to the helping hands of committed faculty, staff and fellow program members," she said. "What began with a grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board has grown into an initiative that brings priceless rewards to program participants. We hope to continue to grow the program so that each member will have a one-on-one mentor relationship with a faculty member who follows him throughout his tenure at the University."

To celebrate the academic achievements of members, as well as another successful semester of the program, AAMMP mentors and members gathered this week at UHD's Willow Street Pump Station. Program leaders distributed awards to individuals who have shown the most academic improvement and AAMMP member and student worker Jared Mayon shared his story with attendees.

"Through AAMMP, we get the opportunity to say, 'We're all brothers in this together,'" said Jones. I tell members, "You've got to strive for excellence and give yourself the best chance to succeed. When you get a chance to positively change your life, you've got to take it - and you're the only one who can."