Effort to take Multicultural Scholars Programs to community colleges paying dividends

Pilot project to continue at Kansas schools

A grant-funded partnership between KU and three Kansas community colleges to expand opportunities for multicultural students has proven successful enough to lay the groundwork for permanent programs.

Renate Mai-Dalton

Renate Mai-Dalton, professor of business and former executive director of the Multicultural Scholars Program, received a three-year, $515,000 grant in 2006 to establish similar pilot programs at three Kansas community colleges. The Department of Education grant, which helped launch Multicultural Scholars Programs at Kansas City Kansas Community College, Donnelly College and Cowley College, has been extended for a year. Officials at Cowley are working to establish the program on a permanent basis.

Mai-Dalton founded KU’s first Multicultural Scholars Program in 1992 in the School of Business. There are now 10 programs at KU, under the direction of Fred Rodriguez. The programs help students from underrepresented ethnicities, first-generation students and those eligible for Pell grants succeed in college and prepare for graduate school.

The programs match students with faculty mentors, arrange monthly group meetings and provide access to speakers and cultural events, such as plays and concerts.

“The mentoring part of the program helps show students new opportunities and a broader picture of education than they may have had before,” Mai-Dalton said. “The cultural component adds to the educational experience. I’ve always felt education is more than learning classroom material.”

The first year of the grant helped identify faculty mentors and program directors at the community colleges. The subsequent years enrolled students and tracked their progress in the program. The goal is to encourage and help students complete their associate degrees and continue their education. All three programs have met the goal.

“Our students have always had higher grade point averages and higher retention and graduation rates than the KU undergraduate population. Many have gone on to graduate school,” Mai-Dalton said.

At Cowley, nine of the 13 original students who enrolled in the program have either graduated or are still in the program. About 90 percent of students surveyed upon entering the program said they did not intend to go on to a four-year college. However, upon graduation nearly all of them have.

Amy McWhirt, humanities instructor and co-sponsor of students at Cowley, said she has seen students’ confidence and self-esteem steadily rise as they progress through the program.

“We’ve been very pleased with the program, particularly the one on one mentoring component,” McWhirt said. “We regularly see students gain confidence and set bigger goals for themselves than they may have when they started.”

Faculty and Administration at Cowley are now working to continue the program after the grant expires.

Mai-Dalton said she was confident the partnership has shown the programs can work at the community college level, and credited faculty mentors for their dedication.

“They are the ones who make their students successful,” she said.

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