Every fall for nearly a decade, the College of Southern Maryland (CSM) has welcomed its African American students to join its Men of Excellence Program – a college-wide initiative aimed at improving the recruitment, success, retention, graduation and transfer rates of black men who enter as first-time, full- or part-time students at the college. The program was recently highlighted at a ‘Lunch and Learn’ as part of CSM’s 30-Day Justice Challenge that has had CSM communities spending the month of July learning about racial injustices against black people in America.
“This is a necessary program and serves an immeasurable role on our campuses,” CSM’s Director of Organizational Development and Learning Institute Trenace Richardson told the Lunch and Learn audience. “We took a look at this population and recognized, based on data and graduation rates, that we needed to help support the African American male population better.”
While all mentoring programs help improve student performance and graduation rates, some community colleges are finding that minority mentorship programs are even more beneficial, reported the Community College Review in 2018. “Colleges across the country are celebrating the outstanding results achieved through the collaborative efforts of on-campus minority mentoring programs.”
“We provide empowerment, leadership and academic resources,” explained Tim Fenner, who coordinates Men of Excellence. “We connect our students with assistance in the areas of mental health, student planning, advising and financial aid,” he explained. “We are a mentoring community and together we grow.
“To be able to positively influence youths’ lives – it is by far the best position I’ve ever had,” he told the Lunch and Learn audience. “Every year we watch the retention rates and Grade Point Averages (GPA) for our African American male students improve.”
There is still a long way to go to close the equity gap, Fenner acknowledged, “but we are making strides here at CSM and I love this job.”
CSM’s promise to close equity gaps was emphasized in the heart-felt message penned by CSM President Dr. Maureen Murphy May 29, four days after the death of George Floyd.
“A college education is commonly understood as a ticket to a better life, and at the College of Southern Maryland, we embrace our mission to close the equity gap, so all learners can improve their lives and the lives of their families,” Murphy wrote in an open letter. “Racism is not welcome here. Intolerance is not welcome here. Bigotry is not welcome here. But people are welcome here. Our black learners. Our white learners. Our Asian learners. Our Latinx learners. Our LGBTQIA learners. Everyone, but right now we especially want our black learners to know our commitment to them is unwavering.”
Black Lives Matter: Students are Awakening
In response to Black Lives Matter, and because of COVID 19, Fenner said that the Men of Excellence Program shifted last semester – and has continued through the summer – to give students a place to connect, to discuss current affairs and to support each other in a virtual setting instead of face-to-face.
“Like everything else, we adjusted to meet weekly in Zoom,” he said. “And during those meetings we cover the gamut. We talk about what’s going on and how we feel about it. The students are awakening and are looking at things differently. We spend a lot of time talking about our African American history.”
Fenner said that every African American male student is welcome to participate actively or passively in the program and past participants have ranged in age from 18 to 68. The current weekly Wednesday Zoom meetings have seen between five and 25 students in attendance.
To further explain the unique and pertinent mentoring offered by Men of Excellence during the lunch event, Ellen Flowers-Fields, CSM associate vice president of Continuing Education and Workforce Development talked about an event last fall that had CSM alum and Charles County’s first African American Sheriff Troy Berry speak with students about how to interact with police officers.
“In light of what has been going on, the students really resonated with, and understood,” what Berry was teaching them, Flowers-Fields shared. “The students left very empowered about what their rights are when they encounter police officers as African American men.”
“It is critical that our black male students have a person like Tim, who looks like them, and who is representative of the achievements to which black men can aspire in higher education” said CSM Counselor Kellie Jamison. “Statistics indicate that, black men don’t matriculate at the same rate as their counterparts where academics is concerned. There are fewer black men in higher education than other undergraduate students comparatively. It’s tremendously important our students have someone with whom they can relate; who looks like them and who might have greater awareness and insight as to the unique challenges black male students face.”
“Those of us who are student-facing in any way – particularly faculty or in financial aid – we are becoming aware, more aware – getting a deeper depth of knowledge about what the Men of Excellence program is and will be directing our African American men to the program,” shared Richardson, pointing to CSM’s over-arching approach to equity and student success.
Men of Excellence Participant Micah Kay Welcomes New Students this Fall
One of the students who will welcome new CSM students during the college’s first virtual student orientation this fall is CSM second-year psychology major and active Men of Excellence member Micah Kay.
“I am a member of distinguished group of brothers at the College of Southern Maryland – the Men of Excellence,” he shared with viewers in a pre-recorded video.
“One of the skills I have picked up while being in the Men of Excellence is that it has helped me grow my communications skills,” he said. “It has put me in environments with a variety of communications; with variety of communicators; with a variety of different people talking in different formats and in different ways. It has allowed me to grow in that area and I am grateful.” (see below)
Kay encouraged students to join the program, adding “it exposes you to people who will make you a better person for your future and a better person in college right now.”
Thanks to his involvement with the Men of Excellence, Kay entered and became the 2020 collegiate-level winner of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.®, Nu Zeta Omega Chapter’s MLK Day of Service Essay Contest. Results of the contest were announced earlier this year during the MLK Day of Service Program at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.
Kay successfully wrote on the topic of “The Harlem Renaissance: Its Contributions and Its Challenges for Us Today.” The contestants were challenged to describe the lessons learned from the Renaissance and to apply the quote, “The past is prologue” to the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the present time with support from personal experiences. (Read Kay’s essay here.)
To learn more about CSM’s Men of Excellence, visit www.csmd.edu/student-life/men-of-excellence/.
About Men of Excellence: The CSM African American mentoring program started in 2011 at the La Plata Campus. It became the Men of Excellence program when it expanded to offer services at the Leonardtown and Prince Frederick campuses in 2013. Tim Fenner took the helm as coordinator in 2017.
The CSM Men of Excellence Program is designed to empower students to meet their academic and professional goals, and provide an array of services meant to increase student engagement, as well as encourage community-building among all participants. By partnering with offices throughout Student Equity and Success and Academic Affairs, the program assists students with mapping their academic, personal, and professional goals and developing leadership skills increasing their capacity for educational success.
About the CSM 30-Day Justice Plan: Inspired by journalist Shaan Merchant’s “30-Day Justice Plan,” CSM faculty, staff and students have spent the month of July learning about racial injustices against black people in America by devoting at least eight minutes and 46 seconds each day to reading, listening, watching, and acting – taking steps toward mutual understanding, equality, and justice.
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