Multicultural Student Mentoring Program creates important connections
Life can be a balancing act, especially when adding ‘student’ to an already full roster of roles – employee, parent, spouse, caregiver – the list goes on. Knowing you have someone in your corner as you face life’s challenges and opportunities can make all the difference.
WCTC’s Multicultural Student Mentoring Program (MSMP) was established in 2013 with a vision to empower students to become successful leaders in their communities. The program serves underrepresented students, including students of color, LGBTQ+, low-income, first-generation and undocumented students. Participants can connect with peer and faculty mentors, access academic support, and participate in community engagement opportunities and monthly leadership workshops.
Since its inception, the MSMP has served more than 300 students, with approximately 100 faculty and staff members participating as mentors. Its value is clear: students recently involved in the program had an 85 percent retention rate and an average GPA of 3.0 – but academic success is just the beginning.
A launchpad for big dreams
Keva Estrada’s story exemplifies how the MSMP can serve as a launchpad for big dreams and meaningful connections. Estrada first earned a Language Interpreter for Health Services technical diploma from WCTC in 2014 and recently returned to pursue an associate degree in Human Services.
"As a mother of two teenagers, one of whom has autism, time management and planning are key to not losing my mind while doing well in school," said Estrada. "It is a challenge to be a parent, student, partner and employee. My motivation to do well in school is the fact that I am modeling to my children and others that hard work and integrity lead to success."
Estrada initially joined the MSMP as a peer mentor to help others. "I thought to myself, I am older and hopefully wise; maybe I can help somebody," she said. "I have continued with the program because I love helping people troubleshoot issues, making them feel heard and being someone to lean on."
Her involvement in the program led her to become the president of the Multicultural Student Union and the 2021-22 Wisconsin Technical College System District Ambassador for WCTC. She also serves on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee and other student-focused groups. "The mentorship program has given me the opportunity to help others, improve communication skills and learn about diversity," said Estrada. "It’s all about learning and connecting with new people."
One of those connections was with her staff mentor, Brad Piazza, Ph.D., WCTC’s vice president of Learning. Piazza joined the MSMP as a mentor in 2018 and serves as a resource for questions and guidance, helping students continue their academic journeys.
Building meaningful relationships
The MSMP has allowed Piazza to build personal relationships with students outside of his regular role at the College. "This program, while structured, provides plenty of flexibility for the mentor-mentee relationship to grow into a very meaningful experience," he said. "I love learning how they are doing in their classes, at home and at work."
Piazza stressed the program’s importance within the bigger picture. "The more touchpoints a student has with faculty and staff, the more likely they are to reach their academic goals," he said. "I gain a lot of insight from students as to what we are doing well and areas that need improvement. Taking the time to sit down with students and ask questions, but more importantly, to listen to the responses, helps us make WCTC better."
In his three years with the program, Piazza has made many impactful memories. A recent favorite happened in May 2021, when he was able to meet both of his mentees in person for lunch. "We had talked many times via Zoom but had never been in the same room together," he said. "I had so much fun talking and laughing with them about non-school topics!"
The future looks bright for Estrada, who intends to earn an additional associate degree in Leadership Development at WCTC after completing the Human Services Associate program in spring 2022. Estrada later plans to pursue a Doctor of Psychology degree, all while learning two additional languages. She hopes to put her skills and knowledge to work as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion professional.
"I want to make sure that students and citizens have more access to quality education and employment," said Estrada. "The life skills that I am learning will prepare me for a career in which I will be able to help clients heal, grow and learn."
By Chelsey Porth, Writer/Marketing Specialist