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Published: Friday, 7/24/2009

The University of Toledo

From left, UT s James Jackson and Sabina Elizondo-Serratos talk with Jamal Arrington of Youngstown about mentorship programs. From left, UT s James Jackson and Sabina Elizondo-Serratos talk with Jamal Arrington of Youngstown about mentorship programs.

The buses left The University of Toledo for destinations such as Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus. On them were scores of UT employees armed with information that will transform the dreams of thousands of young Ohioans into realities.

Keeping with UT s goal of creating educational opportunity, last fall UT introduced a new scholarship program to youth in six urban counties. It guarantees 100 percent tuition and general fees for academically qualified students with financial need.

With the beginning of fall semester in a few weeks, UT anticipates the arrival of more than 500 of these Blue and Gold Scholars.

Many of them are the first people in their families to attend college, said Dr. Kaye Patten Wallace, vice president for student affairs.

Offering the opportunity is just one step toward success for Blue and Gold Scholars.

As Sabina Elizondo-Serratos, director of the Office of Latino Initiatives, learned first-hand, the initial months in a new environment can be intimidating.

When I began college at the Scott Park campus, I quickly realized I was the only brown face in almost all of my classes, she recalled. I often wondered if I even belonged in college.

With time, she found UT s Latino Student Union, formerly known as MEChA, and additional groups that enhanced her comfort level. She now heads the Primos mentorship program, which connects Latino freshmen with peer upperclassmen.

We pair seasoned, upper-class students with our freshmen to help them navigate through their first years, Elizondo-Serratos said. We get them connected to the appropriate resources and acclimated to the culture of being a college student.

The program has been in effect for about five years and has increased retention of participants by approximately 20 percent.

James Jackson, director of the African-American Student Enrichment Initiatives Office, considers himself a conduit of sorts between UT and home.

The first few weeks can be tough, Jackson said. Students have issues with homesickness, roommates, time management, and they question their own abilities. I hear a lot of Am I smart enough to be here?

Jackson is a former at-risk student who has made it his mission to assist others from urban backgrounds. He meets as many students and parents as possible, offering himself as a point of resource and assurance. His office also is creating a peer mentorship program similar to the Primos group.

Students trust other students more than us older guys. Parents want to hear from me, but students want advice from their peers.

In addition to helping students get comfortable on campus, the AASEIO Peer Leader Program will encourage social responsibility, academic transition and leadership development.

We re forging relationships with organizations such as the Greater Toledo Urban League to encourage students to give back, not only after they achieve success, but while they are on their journeys toward it, Jackson said.

Additional mentorship programs are available through fraternities, sororities and cultural and religious groups. Jeff Witt, director in UT s Office of Recreation, has been working since January with a task force to connect all mentorship opportunities under a new program called Rocket-2-Rocket.

We re taking students who are successful leaders and training them to be mentors, Witt said. We ve begun this specifically to enlist leaders to assist with our incoming Blue and Gold Scholars, but any first-year student can be involved.

Through Rocket-2-Rocket, about 200 mentors will be matched with incoming students of similar interests, cultures and ethnicities. The mentor and his charge can connect even before they set foot on UT s campus through social networks such as Facebook.

The Blue and Gold program is about reaching out to our communities, particularly our urban communities, Patten Wallace said. It really goes back to our mission of improving the human condition, one student at a time.

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