No, this wasn’t a summer vacation of any kind, it was definitely a business trip. The 27 students and USD staff members (pictured, right) were in New York to attend a conference that introduces and enhances their potential as campus Changemakers.
The 25th annual National Conference for Race and Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) had a power-packed schedule of speakers, workshops and networking opportunities, but USD staff also provided students with several motivational reminders: Be present, open minded, respectful and take advantage of the experience; Participate in discussions and presentations, be on time and accountable; Embrace conflict, push yourself out of your comfort zone and be inclusive, but also have fun.
“I think NCORE is a venue to connect with students and have in-depth conversations and reflections on diversity and inclusion,” said Mayte Perez-Franco, director of USD’s United Front Multicultural Center. “It’s our hope that these conversations are just the beginning and students who attend NCORE bring it back to USD and become allies by helping us make the university a more inclusive and welcoming community.”
Torero representation at NCORE 2012 included University Ministry, Women’s Center, Residential Life, Associated Students, Student Affairs and Torero Program Board. It shows a desire for the campus community to help students excel both in and out of the classroom. It’s where ideas go from thinking about them to ways to implement them, such as what a few past NCORE attendees/USD alumni have done:
Link Peer Mentoring Program
Ask Jayzona Alberto, a 2011 alumna, about her undergraduate experience and she’ll reflect on close friendships with students, faculty and staff, organizations she worked for and the opportunities at USD to make a real, lasting difference.
Ask Alberto where her drive to help blossomed and she’ll indicate that NCORE 2009 (San Diego) and 2010 (Washington D.C.) were catalysts.
“I definitely left both of my NCORE experiences feeling inspired and empowered, but also frustrated and overwhelmed,” she said. “When I attended NCORE for the first time, I had no idea what to expect, let alone how much each session, speaker and workshop would affect me. I took away a newfound sense of understanding of myself as a person and the struggles so many people experience. I wasn’t open to this before, but after NCORE, I started forming my own opinions and viewpoints about certain things and was more cognizant of things going on around me.”
Alberto and Roxanne Miranda took what they gained at NCORE 2009, combined it with their own experiences, including those in USD’s Filipino Ugnayan Student Organization (FUSO), to create the Link Peer Mentoring Program. It pairs underrepresented freshman and transfer students with upperclassmen mentors to assist in the newcomer’s adjustment to college and to USD. It’s especially helpful to first-generation college students.
“When I entered USD as a freshman, I experienced a major culture shock,” said Miranda. “Many underrepresented students I knew shared the same sentiment. When I attended NCORE, I realized many other college and universities had the same experience. Many of my peers and I spoke to students who felt the same way.”
Attending NCORE provided motivation to make a difference.
“The Link Peer Mentoring Program was absolutely a result of attending NCORE,” said Alberto (pictured right, on the left). “We attended several sessions on establishing a mentoring program and reaching out to underrepresented students who may feel lost as they begin their first year of college. We met a lot of people in those sessions; we obtained a lot of contacts and it was exciting that people we just met were willing to help us.”
FUSO, Miranda said, had its own mentoring program and the positive experience she had through it inspired her to give the same opportunity to others. “Once we were both in our third year of college, we had the opportunity to become mentors to incoming students. Jayzona and I took advantage of this incredible opportunity and enjoyed every minute of it.”
Perez-Franco, who came to USD in August 2009, helped Alberto and Miranda launch Link.
“We were busy preparing to propose it to Mayte,” Alberto said after NCORE 2009. “I knew it would be overwhelming with her transition and the (UFMC’s) move to a new building, but we didn’t want Link to fall to the wayside. Mayte didn’t let it, either. I think it was luck, or fate, that Mayte had implemented a mentoring program in her previous position. Without her extensive knowledge and preparation, Link probably wouldn’t be what it is today.”
Perez-Franco said an examination of USD freshman student retention programs dating back to Fall 2010 lists Link as having the second-highest retention percentage (94.3 percent) among campus programs entering Fall 2011.
Alberto, who was heavily involved in USD activities through the United Front Leadership Council and was the 2010 Women’s Center’s Student Woman of Impact, likes that her efforts have a sustained impact.
“I continuously allow myself to be inspired and empowered by my experiences from NCORE and USD. What I’ve learned has brought me to where I am today. As a graduate student at Western University of Health Sciences, I’m still involved, working to help those coming from underrepresented populations, but in an entirely different context. I’m currently studying community health education and have worked with people from many populations in the Pomona (Calif.) area.”
BRINK Organization/Film Documentary
Adam Serrano, who graduated in May, was a 2010 NCORE attendee. He was one of a group of students to establish the BRINK organization at USD. BRINK’s mindset is specifically to capitalize on what was learned at NCORE and to bring ideas back to campus for future implementation. Serrano and others produced a film documentary to showcase that students can make a difference.
Serrano (pictured, left) was able to promote more understanding among the campus community to come together. His work as a Rainbow Educator and his role as BRINK’s vice president earned him recognition as the Dr. Judy Rauner Award for Social Justice winner at UFMC’s Diversity Banquet in May.
The NCORE experience, Serrano said, gave him more confidence.
“One of the most important things is to be open to new experiences,” Serrano said. “Attending NCORE, itself, is a risk. That may seem weird, but students should apply. Take that feeling with you when you go. You only get out of it what you’re willing to risk. The greatest thing you can do is go to a workshop where you’ll be uncomfortable. I went to one workshop where I was the minority, but it was so enlightening and amazing.”
“It was a good social experience, too,” he said. “You get to know people and you learn more about working in the professional realm. NCORE was something official; it was serious business. You realize it’s a great stepping stone in your professional life because it helps you become a better worker and a greater leader.”
Post-NCORE 2012: What’s next?
The students who attended NCORE 2012 are processing the message delivered by keynote speakers such as Van Jones, Tim Wise, Russlyn Ali and Arlene Davis. They’re taking in what was learned at workshops, discussions with classmates and may be formulating potential programs for USD’s future. Perez-Franco said she was pleased with the range of campus organization representation this year.
“It’s wonderful to see our students so passionate about social justice. You’re seeing the wheels turning, they’re getting up in front of a lot of people and asking good questions,” she said. “It’s an experience that helps to shape them. They, then, become more aware and sensitive and bring back what they’ve learned and can help us do some of the work for us.”
— Ryan T. Blystone