Mentoring Program Helps Students Stay on Track

NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Mentoring is a vital tool in achieving a student’s educational and career goals, and the mentoring system at GCC is growing to be widely recognized for producing positive results.

“The concept of mentoring is we don’t want you to be here at campus lost, wandering around,” said Glady Kabateck, GCC’s coordinator of the Adult Re-Entry Center and Counseling Program.

In contrast to drop-in counseling sessions, mentoring is defined as taking the consistent guidance of a trusted person. “It helps students by making them feel more comfortable and at home here at GCC,” said Linda Serra, who is chair of the business department at GCC and supports the Adult Re-entry Mentoring Program. “[The students] have someone to turn to with questions and someone to help them keep going when times get tough,” said Serra.

With an enrollment that, according to Vice President Lawrence Serot, has dropped by 8 percent, Kabateck believes that mentoring is needed as never before. Seeing their personal mentor on a regular basis keeps students from getting discouraged and possibly dropping out she said. “Mentoring keeps a student connected to an individual, instructor, professor, peer, colleague or spouse who cares about them and their success while at GCC,” said Kabateck.

Gaining early information and clearly defining their academic goals will improve a student’s chances of being admitted into their aspired universities and succeed in their studies and degrees, said Judith Apablaza, counselor and coordinator of GCC’s Career Center.
According to Kabateck many talented community college students, especially re-entry students who currently make up one-third of the enrollment at Glendale College, also drop out of colleges because they become discouraged, confused and overwhelmed by unrealistic goals and timeframes.

“First, I tried to [finish my degree] in two years and I almost had a nervous breakdown,” said re-entry student and full-time mother Connie Stecher. “But then I met [my mentor] Glady and I knew it was going to be OK. I’ve met challenges. But I’m more focused,” said Stecher. “I told myself I never want to give up and I never want to say never.” During the last two years Stecher achieved honors, ranked on the dean’s list and is now working towards a degree in arts.

This September Stecher applied to become a mentor at the re-entry students’ mentoring program because it had helped her tremendously, she said. “I’d definitely walked out of that door the very first day if [my counselor] hadn’t been there,” said Stech.

Mentors therefore do not merely supplement students’ educational efforts, but also help to ensure that the student’s study skills are improved, that he or she learns stress management techniques and also obtains a healthy and mentally balanced lifestyle.

“I know what it is like to be a single parent and re-entry student,” said business professor and part-time counselor Serra. “Oftentimes reentering students and single parents, especially if they have been out of school for a long time, lack confidence in themselves. A friendly and helpful mentor can smooth this path considerably.”

Judie Apablaza, director of the career center believes “most people just need a little coaching” to achieve great goals.

Statistics show that the ethnic and cultural landscape of the American community college is becoming increasingly diverse. According to the 2004 Student Survey, over the past five years the percentage of non-native English speakers at GCC, currently at 70 percent, has been steadily increasing, and more re-entry students, especially single parents, have enrolled.

These students may be confronted with many issues that impede their educational success, such as lower levels of academic preparation in high school, a lower socio-economic status and greater alienation, causing them to depend in many cases on mentoring programs.

The same accounts for international students at GCC. Serra believes “they need someone to help become familiar and comfortable at GCC.”

Elke Henkis who emigrated from Brazil to the United States when she got married to an American said she was “completely lost in everything” when she first started going back to school. The different system “sometimes [makes] you feel the things like a monster [overwhelming you],” said Henkis. “If we hadn’t had these [mentors] I could never have done this,” said the 32-year-old who is now applying at the Adult-Reentry Program to become a mentor for re-entry students herself.

Every month, with the last meeting on September 29, the Adult Re-Entry Mentoring Program is holding an information workshop for new and returning mentor applicants.

Being able to utilize an increased budget this year, one of the program’s goals is to support student mentors with scholarships and enlarge GCC’s mentoring capacity as the program matches mentors with mentees.

“We need more mentors and more mentees to sign up &$0151; so that we can better serve the students who need assistance,” said Serat.

The 2004 Student Survey conducted by Research and Planning shows that 61 percent of GCC students rate the helpfulness of GCC’s counselors with “good” or “excellent.” It also shows a trend that faculty concerns for students and helpfulness have increased slightly since 2003; both were rated more positively than in the late 1990s, according to the 2004 Research and Planning Student Review.

Kabateck said, “Here at GCC you get a general education to transfer but you’re getting something that no other school can give you: You get a lot of love and affection and care. And many of our mentors say they really, really care.”

The next re-entry students mentoring workshop and meeting for students interested in becoming mentors will be held on Oct. 20 at noon in AD121. For information contact Linda Perry at ext. 5446 or 5918.
GCC’s counseling services are located on the second floor in the San Rafael building. Academic Advisement is available by an appointment and on a drop-in basis.