Feb 082006
Authors: Caroline Welch

Less than 13 percent of CSU's undergraduate population consists of minority students, according to the university's admissions Web site, but efforts to increase the ratio are the everyday workings of CSU's ethnic advocacy offices.

Black Student Services

Black Student Services (BSS), one of the oldest advocacy offices on campus, developed a program called "Rites of Passage" to help students find the resources they need, said Lydia Kelow , interim assistant director for the office.

Peer mentoring, tutoring, retreats, workshops, forums and grade monitoring comprise the program meant to increase the retention rate and boost academic achievement of black students.

Juwon Melvin , a BSS peer mentor, said the program helps black students adjust to campus life at a university that is predominantly white.

"We help mentees get acclimated to the university and get to know all the resources on campus," Melvin said. "(The program) gives mentees a familiar face and someone who's been there."

While the program is beneficial in keeping black students enrolled at CSU, Melvin said recruitment is different.

"One big challenge (of recruitment) is awareness of CSU and what it has to offer," said the sophomore business management major.

Other hurdles to recruitment, Melvin said, speaking from a personal perspective, include academic achievement and the all-mighty dollar. He said many students can't afford to attend college and don't have access to scholarships and other financial aid.

El Centro

El Centro, which opened at the same time as BSS in the 60s during the civil rights movement, has focused on retaining CSU's largest minority population: Latinos.

One of the office's main programs is in line with BSS's "Rites of Passage" program. The peer-mentoring program helps students connect with campus resources and upperclassmen who know what it's like to be a Latino(a) at CSU.

Mentors advise more than 300 incoming freshmen and transfer students every year, said Francisco Guajardo , resource leader for El Centro. They send out letters, make weekly phone calls and visit residence halls encouraging Latino(a) students to get involved.

"We get them involved to help them succeed," Guajardo said. "We just do what we can to help them."

Jazmin Gonzales , a senior finance and marketing major, was a mentee her freshman year and is still active at El Centro. She said the mentor program and the office helped her find scholarships, network and feel comfortable at CSU.

"El Centro just makes you feel at home," Gonzales said. "(El Centro) has a great retention program. I probably wouldn't have gotten this far with out their support and care. It is a very valuable office."

Native American Student Services

Native American Student Services (NASS) created similar programs in fall 2004 when they developed the North Star Peer Mentoring and Eagle Feather Tutoring programs.

The office offers tutoring for no charge and helps all students with general studies like math, English and history, said Seraphina Wall , program coordinator for NASS.

The mentoring program pairs upperclassmen, who receive academic credit, with incoming students to help with personal and academic problems, Wall said.

"We want to show that there is support for Native American students at CSU," Wall said. "We're here to make sure students graduate, and we are here for all students, not just Native Americans."

While the mentoring and tutoring programs focus on student retention at CSU, they will use the programs as recruitment tools in the near future, Wall said.

NASS also offers tools such as workshops and events, but to some, it is also a place to feel at home.

"It's a cool place to come and hang out if you have nothing to do," said Adrian Abeyta , sophomore wildlife biology major. "All of the people are really nice."

Asian/Pacific American Student Services

Asian/Pacific American Student Services (A/PASS) echoes the efforts of the other advocacy offices with a mission that says the office "exists to support the matriculation, retention and graduation of Asian/Pacific American students…though direct service to students as well as through educational and cultural campus-wide programs."

Director of A/PASS, Mikiko Kumasaka , said their peer-mentoring program is much like those of the other advocacy offices.

The mission statement, according to the office's Web site, said the office is "committed to a philosophy of multiculturalism" and encourages interaction among community members to "enhance a campus environment that welcomes all students."

While the advocacy offices are named specifically for minority students, Gonzales said all students are welcome.

"Everyone is always welcome, not just Latino(a)s," Gonzalez said.

Caroline Welch can be reached at campus@collegian.com

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