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MSMU Expands Mentoring Programs for Underserved Youth

Oct. 8, 2008 -- Mount Saint Mary’s University (MSMU) is expanding its after-school mentoring programs for underserved youth this fall by sending more MSMU students into Los Angeles neighborhoods to work with elementary and high school students.

The expansion of weekly tutorial programs builds on MSMU's commitment to youth mentorship, as Mount students work to assist thousands of third-through 12th-grade students each year. Beginning today, Mount students are heading to St. Monica Catholic elementary and high schools to serve as role models and help students with classroom assignments. In mid-October, MSMU students will begin mentoring children at the Catholic Santa Teresita Elementary School in East Los Angeles.

"Mount St. Mary's is committed to fostering a sense of service within our students, not because it's in vogue but because community service is at the root of what we do," says Bernadette Robert, assistant vice president for Student Affairs and Community Engagement at MSMU. "Our students are looking to us to expand their leadership skills, so we focus on creating student volunteering opportunities that will systemically change our community."

The College's latest mentoring efforts are known as Project THINK (Teaching, Helping, Inspiring, Nurturing Kids) for children in grades three through eight, and Operation ROCK (Reaching Out, Challenging Kids) for ninth- through 12th-graders.

The programs are run by the College's Student Ambassadors Program, which each year reaches 7,000 youth—many of them in large public high schools—with the message that college is an attainable goal.

St. Monica students are from diverse backgrounds and are bused in from different cities, while Santa Teresita students are primarily minorities from lower-socioeconomic households. Many of Santa Teresita's students have parents who speak limited English, and have difficulty helping their children complete class assignments.

When Project THINK began on a pilot basis last year, notes Maryann Nguyen, an MSMU student affairs assistant who coordinates the mentoring efforts, it was heartening to see children steadily increasing their learning levels. She recalls the academic progress of two particular girls who were twins in the fifth grade.

"The girls were raised by their grandmother since their own mother wasn't in the picture, and they performed below their grade level," recounts Nguyen. "But at the end of the fall semester, their grandmother came in and shared how happy she was because the girls' education level leaped from a fourth-grade level to a fifth-grade level."

Courtney Hartsfield, assistant principal and dean of studies at St. Monica High School, also praises MSMU students for encouraging teens to realize their academic capabilities. "The partnership between Mount Saint Mary’s University and St. Monica High School has been an invaluable resource in helping our students reach their full academic potential," says Hartsfield.

Student Ambassador volunteers are excited about participating in the new mentoring program this year, particularly since so many volunteers have experienced firsthand how their work makes a difference in the lives of others.

"I loved working with the kids," says Joanne Ruiz, a Student Ambassador volunteer who helps run mentoring initiatives. "It made me think of how much of an impact I really do have on these kids and that one person can make a difference."

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