Two UConn cultural centers have partnered this semester with a Hartford-based community organization to launch a program that provides a taste of the university experience for urban youth.
The new program, Pipeline Connect, pairs mentors from the Puerto Rican/Latin American (PRLACC) and African-American Cultural Centers (AACC) with Hartford middle and high school students from 7th through 12th grades through Hartford Communities That Care. Together, mentors and mentees take part in various lectures, workshops, and other activities designed to prepare the mentees for the myriad requirements and pressures a typical college student will face.
Between the mentors’ biweekly visits to Hartford Communities That Care during the week and opportunities for the Hartford-area students to come to UConn on select Saturdays throughout the semester, Pipeline Connect offers comprehensive lessons ranging from time-management skills and healthy study habits to interview strategies – including what to wear.
Willena Price, director of the AACC, believes the lessons offered through the program are invaluable, given the financial and logistical constraints faced by urban youth – especially first-generation college students – and she says the fact that UConn directly sponsors the program is significant.
“We’re trying to plant this seed into the hearts of these kids,” says Price. Giving urban youth the opportunity to experience the university setting is very important, she says, adding that it can leave some students “totally starry-eyed.”
Fany Hannon, director of PRLACC, also says the program can have a huge impact on those who participate, adding that the earlier a child is reached, the better.
She says she is optimistic that this new program will continue at UConn, based on the commitment that was shown by mentors and mentees alike throughout the semester.
Price says mentors should have a strong character and a robust GPA, as well as community and leadership experience. Nordia Meggie, the program coordinator for Pipeline Connect, is well qualified.
Meggie, a sophomore majoring in psychology, was initially approached last summer by the director of Hartford Communities That Care, Andrew Woods, to come up with some ideas for what the program – at that point still at the conceptual stage – might consist of. Not long afterward, Meggie came back to him with over a dozen sticky notes filled with suggestions.
Meggie, herself the first of her family to attend college, has had her own personal struggles to deal with. She says she doesn’t believe in allowing ‘the hand one is dealt’ to define a person’s life.
She notes that the program offers mentees a chance to interact with mentors from similar circumstances who have earned positions of leadership and success. “I want them to see people who look like them doing what they want to do,” she says.
Meggie says she expects the Hartford students who take part in the program to demonstrate commitment to overcoming the challenges they may face. “The past is your past; you’re given a choice [how to handle it],” she says. “[As a mentor,] I’m not going to empathize with you if you’re not trying to do better.”
Zachary Trust, an education major and Pipeline Connect mentor who also volunteered for City Year in Boston before coming to UConn, says mentors need to be passionate about what they do.
“Without passion, you cannot be a leader,” he says.
It is also critical for the mentors to establish a relationship with their mentees, Trust adds, and that requires putting the focus on those they are trying to help. “You have to build a relationship before you can motivate or inspire someone. It starts with me being as selfless as can be: it’s all about the mentees.”
He recalls a letter he received from one of the mentees he supervised through City Year. In the letter, the mentee wrote that she would have dropped out of school if not for Trust’s intervention as a mentor. Moments such as these, he says, inspire “the feeling that you’ve actually helped [someone],” a feeling that makes the endeavor all the more worthwhile.
Lucia Osman, a senior from Pathways To Technology Magnet School in Hartford and a participant in Pipeline Connect, says she looks forward to learning about “responsibility and how to deal with it,” primarily in terms of time management and balancing extracurricular activities.
Choosing between attending UConn or Springfield College in the fall, Osman understands the value of what Pipeline Connect has offered her: “I feel like every opportunity given to me I should take.”