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Kristen Cyr
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Mentoring program helps students navigate,
maximize their CCRI experience

Jan. 29, 2014

Mentor Jane May meets with CCRI student Lasajo Hall at the Newport County Campus. Mentor Jane May meets with CCRI student Lasajo Hall at the Newport County Campus. Hall credits her success in college to the help and guidance May has provided.

It takes a lot for a person to turn his or her life around: hard work, perseverance, maybe even luck. All of these things are essential ingredients for success whether the climb is sharply uphill or straight ahead. For Community College of Rhode Island student Leasajo Hall, this climb hasn’t always been easy.

With no experience in a college environment, she described her first endeavor in higher education as being rife with walls that felt too high to scale. Fortunately for Hall and other students like her, the CCRI Student Success Center’s mentoring program makes sure that no one has to go it alone.

Program coordinator Deirdre Lavallee said the volunteer mentors, who largely come from the CCRI faculty and staff community, are encouraged to have regular contact with each student for at least one academic year.

The relationship mainly works to help students get the most out of their experience at the college, although Lavallee added that, depending on the relationship and the field of study, a protégé can glean some workforce guidance during his or her time with the mentor. Lavallee, who has been coordinating the program since its inception in 2007, said that she believes the experience to be a valuable one.

“Many of the students who attend CCRI are first-generation college students and they don’t have the background to navigate the college environment, whether it’s figuring out what classes they want to take or financial aid. This program gives them the confidence to seek out the right people and the right solutions,” she said.

Hall was a prime example of such a student in need of a North Star. She is an adult learner who began to seek an associate degree in General Business after being laid off and finding her employment search was stymied without advanced credentials. She said she had long put her college dreams aside as she made her way in the workforce.

Now, two years later, she’s set to graduate in May and hopes to continue her education by pursuing a bachelor’s degree either locally or online, with the ultimate goal of becoming an animal behaviorist. All of this wouldn’t have been possible, said Hall, without the help of mentor Jane May.

May works for the Rhode Island Transition to College and Careers Initiative, helping adult learners statewide transition to college. She’s been involved in the mentoring program for three years, and Hall is her second protégé. May said that her primary role in Hall’s education has been to help steer her toward the resources she needs in the way of financial aid, enrollment services and academic advising, making the experience as seamless as possible so that Hall wouldn’t have to waste valuable time or energy with guesswork along the way. But May said that she doesn’t necessarily consider Hall to be the primary beneficiary of the rewards reaped from their relationship.

“As educators, we’re all interested in seeing our students succeed. That’s what motivates us. And the mentoring program gives me the opportunity to see that happen with one person deeply and over a long period of time; I think that’s very special. We don’t get that opportunity every day,” she said.

May said that working with Hall has given her invaluable insight into the struggles that adult students face as they integrate, or in some cases reintegrate, into the college environment, which in turn helps her serve students in the Transitions program.

For May, the mentoring program completes a crucial piece of the puzzle when it comes to the support available for adult learners at CCRI. “It’s the natural next step for an adult who wants to increase his or her employability or become an expert in his or her field. CCRI can offer that opportunity, and it can offer it on a flexible basis,” she said.

For her part, Hall’s emotions were visible as she talked about the impact that the college and May have had on her life. Being a part of the mentoring program meant that someone was in her corner offering support rather than judgment, something that made all the difference for Hall as she strove to earn her degree. “It’s been a real confidence-builder for me,” she said of her experience.

“When I came to CCRI, I hadn’t been to college and … I didn’t know my way,” she said. “When I got involved with the mentoring program, it all changed for me, because it connected me with somebody who knew the way and who could show me how to get there.”

Hall said she would recommend the program to any student who feels like he or she needs support. “Having a mentor has made all the difference. It has made it so that, in times when I felt like quitting, I could instead choose to go forward,” she said. “The mentor can see the big picture; they’ve been there, they’ve been through these things. And they can help direct you to make the right choices.”

Just as May has been an example for Hall, Hall said she hopes to be an example for her three children, who stopped short of finishing college. “Now, I see my daughter choosing to do things she wouldn’t have done before because of my successes and the choices I’ve made,” she said.

May surely will be in the audience with Hall’s family this spring as the newly minted graduate walks toward the future and all the possibilities it holds. “I’m really looking forward to seeing Leasa cross that stage,” she said.


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