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MOC Mentorship Program Celebrates First Graduating Class

Rebecca A. Eckland
men of color 2019 graduation

The first graduating class of the Men of Color Mentorship program celebrated its graduates on Saturday, June 1.

TMCC High School graduate Brian Torres remembers the camping trip to Point Reyes and the hours of community service he completed with the Men of Color (MOC) Mentorship program this past semester as not only memorable but life-changing. In addition to providing Torres with guidance in the scholarship application process, his participation in the program also paired him with supportive mentors that, in his own words, “Helped me to check myself. They kept me on track to stay motivated... and they were always there for me.”

Torres graduated from high school due in no small part to a program that taught him the value of education, and how achievements in the classroom can lead to achievements in life.

“I faced some personal challenges, but [Men of Color Program Coordinator] Miguel Martinez helped me to see things—to put them in perspective—so I could resolve my conflicts and focus on school,” said Torres, who is a part of the first cohort of Men of Color youth, a group of young men who’ve defied the statistics that state young minority men typically do not graduate from high school.

Helping Young People Succeed

Three years ago, the Men of Color Mentorship Program began with a cohort of a dozen high school sophomores from Galena High School. Besides sharing the same school colors and mascot, these young men had other characteristics in common: they will be first-generation college students, and all of them are minorities. The program’s aim was to provide education and support to these young men that would enable them to not only graduate from high school but to continue their education at a college, university or trade school.

According to the numbers, young men who identify as a minority face unique challenges: they are among the least likely demographic to graduate from high school and to continue to post-secondary education. The reasons for this are many: some stem from the stresses of being a first-generation college student, with little to no guidance on how to continue the educational journey; some challenges are financial and others arise from the stress of managing a host of social, emotional and sometimes related physical stressors that detract from a student’s ability to achieve academic success.

“The next challenge will be teaching them how to go to college,” said Martinez, who will continue to mentor the MOC graduates several months into their college careers. “It’s about adjusting to college life and finding the resources you need in order to meet your goals.”

It will not be an easy journey. Students like Torres face particular challenges due to their academic struggles before joining the MOC program. One student, who hoped to graduate with an honors degree, failed two classes the fall semester of his senior year. Determined to graduate—and to continue to UNR in his older brother’s footsteps—he enrolled in A+ courses (online credit recovery courses) and recovered five credit hours while holding a full course load.

“He dug himself out of a hole,” said Martinez, who remarked that this student, due to his diligence in the eleventh hour, was able to achieve an important step on the way to his ultimate goal of obtaining a college degree.

Honoring MOC Graduates

2019 witnessed many accomplishments of not only the MOC graduates but of the program as a whole: the program took the young men on the first group-sponsored camping trip to Point Reyes, a National Park that sits on the pristine coast of Northern California. The program also logged over 100 hours of community service through its work at Melody Lane Park. “We also hosted multiple socials every month with fun activities like bowling, billiards and watching movies,” said Martinez. Additionally, seventeen MOC youth have signed up for a summer dual-credit course in Communications.

The mentoring relationship that the program fosters between the mentors and the young men remains key to the program’s success (90% of its first-year cohort earned a 2.75 GPA or higher and all of them earned their high school diploma this semester). The mentoring relationship itself—giving the young men the pros and cons of their decisions—has enabled program participants to see the consequences of their choices and why pursuing higher education can help them to lead more fulfilling lives.

“Their next step is learning how to adopt a certain way of life in college,” said Martinez. “There’s a lot freedom in that life, but also a lot of responsibility.” The first MOC cohort graduated on Saturday, June 1 in a ceremony hosted at the Dandini campus. In addition to the graduates and mentors, Nevada System of Higher Education (NSHE) Chief of Staff Michael Flores and City of Reno Councilmember Oscar Delgado attended the ceremony that celebrated the MOC graduates’ successes.

Admissions applications for high school sophomores interested in joining the MOC program open in August. For more information about the Men of Color Mentorship program, contact the Recruitment and Access Center at 775-673-8236.