Clarke University receives grant to help minority first-year students excel at university

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DUBUQUE, Iowa (KCRG) – A person’s first year of college can be an overwhelming experience for many. This was the case for Darius Hernandez.

“There were a few times I was stressed out from work,” Hernandez said. “I felt like my time management was breaking down. I just felt like I had no one to talk to other than my best friends here on campus.

Hernandez is now entering his freshman year at Clarke University and is well suited to college life. Now he gives back to new freshmen as part of Clarke’s peer mentoring program.

“Each of us has the opportunity to meet a particular student and help them through their life as a freshman or just move from high school to freshman,” Hernandez said.

The program started last spring and Hernandez was one of three mentors. These students help new students from minority or under-represented groups manage their time, study, learn to move around campus, and even lend an ear to them when they need to let off steam.

The university matches mentors and mentees based on factors such as background and interests. Hernandez said he has formed a special bond with his mentee.

“He and I have created a really good relationship,” Hernandez said. “Him and me both coming from Texas, far, far from home, this homesickness has started a bit. I was able to help him in specific situations he was facing, while improving his time management, helping him with his lessons and increasing his grades from C to B or from B to As.

A $ 3,000 grant from the Alliant Energy Foundation will allow the university to expand the program in the fall.

“It just means that we are able to invest more in the program and therefore in the students,” said Renee Smith, deputy director of engagement and intercultural programs. “The grant is going to help us support mentors financially and through training, and through that, by having more mentors, we can also serve more student mentees.”

The program started with three mentors and four mentees; they hope to at least double that now. Smith said students who participated as mentees increased their GPA by about 0.5 points.

“They not only get this academic support, but they get this social peer interaction because Clarke has a more diverse student body,” Smith said.

It’s something Hernandez said he’s honored to have been chosen to help.

“Just being able to give back to these kids and not allowing them to struggle like we struggled our first year really makes me feel good on the inside,” Hernandez said.

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