LARGO, Md. – West Brooks, an 18-year-old Prince George’s Community College student, dreams of moving to New York and becoming an actor.
That’s why he works more than 30 hours a week at three different jobs, while attending classes. Though it’s tough and time is limited, Brooks said, he wants to succeed.
And with the help of ALANA, a campus support group geared to minority students, Brooks plans to make it – despite statistics that show black students at Maryland community colleges are less likely to graduate or go on to four-year state colleges than the student body as a whole.
Brooks said ALANA, which supports African-Latin-Asian- Native-American students, gives members the encouragement they need to fulfill their dreams.
“It’s like a family,” said Brooks, who graduated last June from Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt. “You’ll never be rejected.”
ALANA is one of a number of different programs being adopted at community colleges around the state to combat lagging minority success rates.
Founded in 1987, ALANA was designed to improve retention rates for black males. Originally funded by grants from the Maryland Higher Education Commission and the U.S. Department of Education, the program is now paid for by the college and includes students of all races, said Janice Watley, ALANA’s coordinator.
A primary goal is to establish mentor-student relationships. Mentors – drawn from a pool of instructors, staff and other students – work closely with students to help them navigate academically and socially through college life.
“[Mentoring] is more than just talking and listening,” Watley said. “The mentors empower the students. That’s how success happens.”
This year, about 250 students are paired with 130 mentors in the all-volunteer program. Membership has grown since 1987, when 30 students joined the pilot.
Watley said campus studies have shown that members of ALANA are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to transfer to four-year colleges than minority students who aren’t members.
For the class of 1992, for example, 75 percent of the ALANA members not in remedial classes returned for a second year, while only 50 percent of all other non-remedial minority students returned, Watley said.
Most students visit their mentors about once every two weeks, Watley said.
Brooks said his mentor, a speech instructor, has given him advice on classes, girl problems, and how to get into New York University, where he wants to study drama. His mentor was also the first person to suggest Brooks get involved in drama at PGCC.
Another program goal is to help students transfer to four- year colleges, Watley said, which is why the group visits campuses such as Bowie State University, Morgan State, Howard and the University of Maryland, College Park. But even after they transfer, Watley said, ALANA students call their mentors for advice.
Much of ALANA’s activities are social, Watley said. From ice cream socials and holiday parties to springtime cook-outs and field trips to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, many members are friends as well as colleagues.
Donna Eastmond, 39, a PGCC student and mentor from Glenarden, said she’s become friends with the two students she helps, even baby-sitting occasionally for one of them.
“When we communicate, we learn from each other,” said Eastmond, who’s originally from Barbados. Beth Adkins, a school counselor and ALANA mentor, said the program is making a difference. “What it provides for students is a connection to the campus,” she said. “ALANA gives them someone who cares about them and who is routing for them.” -30-