Thursday, October 20, 2011

Dr. Marie Lowe is an Assistant Professor of Applied Anthropology. Working in the Institute for Social and Economic Research, she knew that she wanted to do more as a service project. "It was a way for me to apply what I've learned from youth research and especially first-generation college students," Lowe told us in a presentation to faculty, staff and students during the CCEL Faculty Colloquia Breakfast Series. She created a program that she called "UAA Transitions" as a peer mentoring program for UAA students and at-risk Anchorage High School students and piloted the program for three semesters. UAA Transitions is a college readiness program for would-be first generation students who are now still in high school.

Lowe describes the program as an "innovative experiential leadership model," following the lead of a program pioneered by the Anchorage School District. Rooted in a social emotional learning approach, the attention to "soft skills," not academic skills but skills essential to student surviving well in life, the model has been found to be effective with high-risk students. Brian Greg, a miliary school liaison with ASD, started a program for students with parents in the military and then integrated and expanded the student participation within the school district. Lowe and Greg together adapted the model to bring high school students here to campus, recruiting UAA students to be mentors.

The program includes 1 1/2 days of leadership training for UAA students, followed by 3 on-campus activity days over the semester that include the UAA mentors and the high school students together: Challenge Day, Campus Event Day, and a Finale in which UAA students prepare and execute problem-solving initiatives at the end of the semester. "We provide UAA students with tools, and the idea is they take control of the program. The high school students see the university through the eyes of the college students and it engages them much more quickly," Lowe said.

Lowe thinks the program has been successful, but the level of commitment from UAA students has been mixed. Initially the participation of UAA students was more white, middle-class, but a focus on diversity and recruiting has helped, and the number of young men participating has increased. UAA Transitions has received support from John Dede to provide tuition waivers for student mentors, CCEL minigrant to support the program, and through the Adventure Leadership program to engage some of their students as mentors. A future possibility will place UAA Transitions in the Honors College with a more consistent budget and placements for 10 UAA students as mentors in a program that they will call ELECT - Engagement, Leadership, Empowerment, Connection, Transformation. Lowe would like to do more grant-writing for the program in the future.

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