Cultural center mentoring programs offer support to students

A Cultural Center event in action (Judah Singleton/The Daily Campus)

After arriving to campus last Wednesday to begin training, peer mentors of Mentoring, Educating and Training for Academic Success (METAS) finally met their mentees on Sunday night at the program’s kickoff event. Run through the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center, METAS is one of four peer mentoring programs offered through UConn’s cultural centers, many of which are getting into action as the school year begins.

Fostering Academics, Maturity, Independence, Leadership, Empowerment & Excellence (FAMILEE) is run out of the Rainbow Center, while Asiantation Mentoring Program (AMP) is run through the Asian American Cultural Center (AsACC). The African American Cultural Center (AACC) offers PA²SS, or Preparing African American Students to Sustain Success.

While these programs sound like a lot of confusing acronyms, they aim to provide first year and transfer students with opportunities to meet new people, become involved at UConn, feel more comfortable on campus and learn about the communities the cultural centers represent, oftentimes with clearly measurable results.

“METAS was introduced to UConn in 2005,” senior sociology major and METAS coordinator Shariel Rodriguez said, “and since 2005, retention for Latin-x students has increased a lot. We started with 20 mentor/mentee groups back in 2005, and now we have 70.”

Not only are these programs beneficial for mentees, but they also offer mentors a lot of valuable experience with leadership, communication and mediation.

“It definitely helps with developing interpersonal communications,” METAS mentor and sixth semester psychology and human development and family studies major Juwah Rosa said.  “A lot of the training that we do helps educate us or walk us through steps to communicate with someone if they’re going through something difficult.”

Throughout the year, different mentoring programs offer different events for students to attend. METAS offers educational programs, like having The Major Experience come in to speak with students, as well as social, professional and destress events. Similarly, AMP offers two kinds of events, workshops and socials, which may feature ice cream or holiday celebrations. At the Rainbow Center, mentor/mentee pairs are required to attend three events per month: two one-on-one interactions with each other, and then one “FAMILEE reunion.” PA²SS acts as a one-credit class meeting once a week for fifty minutes, often featuring guest lecturers and discussions, as well as building academic and professional skills.

The fact that these mentoring programs are based out of cultural centers also adds a dynamic that other peer mentoring programs on campus don’t offer. While not all programs require you to identify a certain way (for example, you don’t have to identify as LGBTQ to be a FAMILEE mentee), the relationship with cultural centers often supports students in additional ways.

“I felt really alone,” sixth semester exercise science student Omaniel Ortiz said as a current mentor and former mentee. Ortiz explained that he was the only one from his high school who came to UConn, while many of his friends didn’t pursue education beyond high school.

“It was just great to have someone who could help guide you, and someone who was also Puerto Rican as well as I was, and I could relate to and see them and say, ‘oh, they understand what I’m going through.’”

Sixth semester human development and family studies major Qimei Liu also emphasized how AMP is especially beneficial for international students who may not be as well-represented on campus. Liu was the first international coordinator at AsACC.

“I feel we have more and more Chinese students, but we don’t have many Chinese students show up in leadership positions or be visible,” Liu said. She also pointed out that this year there is a shift in the AMP program because there are more international than domestic mentees for once, giving international students added support.

In another light, while FAMILEE isn’t restricted to LGBTQ students, it still includes educational programming about the community, and according to Steven Feldmen, graduate assistant in the Rainbow Center and higher education and student affairs student, the program gives LGBTQ students, “a chance to talk about their experiences,” and tries to make all students feel “safe and welcome on campus.”

The METAS, AMP, and PA²SS programs have already kicked off for the year, but FAMILEE is still accepting applications for mentees. Mentors and mentees alike are in for a plethora of programming and hopefully the building of new relationships.

It was just great to have someone who could help guide you, and someone who was also Puerto Rican as well as I was, and I could relate to and see them and say, ‘oh, they understand what I’m going through.
— Omaniel Ortiz

“I had an amazing experience as a mentee,” Rodriguez said. “I was a mentor for two years, I had seven mentees and I learned so much from them as they learned from me. METAS is one of the reasons I’m still here at UConn.”


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent/staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.