Serving Students: How WCC’s Intercultural Center Makes an Impact

The Peer Mentor Program at the Simpson Intercultural Center (SIC) of Whatcom Community College is making a significant impact on student success and retention.

Created two years ago, this center aims to provide support and mentorship to students from historically underserved and underrepresented backgrounds. By fostering a sense of belonging and connecting students with essential resources, the program empowers participants to thrive academically and personally.

As the SIC continues to evolve, its effectiveness is becoming evident, with students finding a home within this space and forging lasting connections with their peers.

In an effort to foster student success and create a sense of belonging for historically underserved and underrepresented populations, the Intercultural Center at Welcome College has implemented a powerful Peer Mentor Program.

In contrast to other peer mentoring programs on campus that primarily focus on academic assistance, the Intercultural Center’s Peer Mentor Program takes a unique approach. According to one of the program’s peer navigators, their aim is not only to provide academic support but also to help students connect with peers who share similar identities and engage in activities they enjoy. This inclusive approach eliminates the perceived distance between employees and students, creating a more supportive and inclusive environment.

“I was one of the first people they hired for this [job],” stated Bern Lim. “There are a bunch of students who were underrepresented like students of color disabled students’, neurodivergent students, you know, just anyone who you think was or is currently being disturbed by the educational institution as a whole.”

Driven by the belief in the power of peer-to-peer mentoring, this program pairs students from marginalized communities with trained peer navigators who offer guidance, support, and resources. The program’s seven peer navigators, selected for their diverse backgrounds, acting as connectors to help students access campus resources and navigate university life.

The seven peer navigators, carefully selected for their diverse backgrounds, work closely with three to five mentees each. They serve as connectors, helping students access campus resources and navigate the complexities of university life.

“We don’t just focus on academic support; we strive to help students get connected to people like them and engage in activities they enjoy,” shared one of the program’s peer navigators.

This unique approach sets the Intercultural Center apart from other peer mentoring programs on campus, which primarily concentrate on academic assistance. By eliminating the perceived distance between employees and students, the program creates a more inclusive and supportive environment.

“Peer-to-peer mentoring is powerful and impactful, contributing to student success and retention,” said Yusuke Okazaki, Associate Director for Intercultural Services at Whatcom. The program aims to address the underrepresentation of historically underserved and underrepresented student populations, fostering connections, and providing resources for academic and personal growth.

Furthermore, the program emphasizes building a strong sense of community. Mentees are encouraged to engage with the Intercultural Center, attending club meetings, workshops, and presentations. By creating a welcoming environment, the program fosters a sense of belonging that is crucial for students from underrepresented backgrounds.

According to Okazaki, anecdotal evidence suggests that students who participate in the program consistently return to the Intercultural Center, indicating the positive impact it has on their lives.

While concrete data is still being collected to measure the program’s impact, initial feedback from participants suggests positive outcomes. An ongoing survey aims to assess the program’s contributions to academic success, connection to resources, and sense of belonging. Long-term evaluation will involve examining metrics such as GPA improvement and retention rates, allowing for a more comprehensive understanding of the program’s effectiveness.

The program’s impact on student success is evident through various metrics. “It has been serving participating students well, considering the resources available to us,” shared a peer navigator.

Despite limited resources, the program has consistently supported students in achieving their goals, both academically and personally. Through mentorship, networking opportunities, and skill development, the program empowers students to navigate the challenges of higher education successfully.

The creation of the Peer Mentor Program was prompted by the need to address retention and success gaps among students from historically marginalized communities.

“Representation matters in creating a sense of belonging,” said Okazaki. Research demonstrates the effectiveness of peer mentoring in promoting student success and graduation rates. By providing tailored support to students of color, LGBTQIA+ individuals, neurodivergent students, international students, and students with disabilities, the program strives to close these gaps.

“Peer-to-peer mentoring empowers underrepresented students, fostering a sense of belonging and promoting academic success,” Okazaki stated. “By creating connections, providing resources, and prioritizing representation, our program strives to shape the next generation of leaders and build a better world.”

In the future, the program envisions expanding its reach beyond the campus boundaries. By collaborating with community organizations and increasing outreach efforts, the program aims to engage a broader audience. This expansion includes class visits, tabling at events, and partnering with external entities, creating more opportunities for students to connect with the Simpson Intercultural Center.

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