Schenectady County

SCCC mentoring program to start with 100 students

Steady Moono, who joined SCCC last year as president, plans to introduce a mentorship model he fine-
Steady Moono, president at SCCC, is photographed with students he mentored while at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. (Provided photo)
Steady Moono, president at SCCC, is photographed with students he mentored while at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania. (Provided photo)

Starting college is hard enough, but Grace Bako founder herself on the other side of the world when she started at Montgomery County Community College in Pennsylvania.

Coming from Zimbabwe to the United States for school, she felt out of place. But she heard that a vice president at the school, Steady Moono, now president of Schenectady County Community College, was from Zambia, a nearby country.

Moono and Bako quickly struck a relationship that he says is key for students to be successful in community college: he became her mentor; she became his mentee.

“When you are from Africa and hear someone else is from Africa, you jump to meet him,” Bako said. “For me he was more than a mentor, I want to be like that; it gave me hope that I can do it, because his background is like mine and look at what he has done.”

Moono, who joined SCCC last summer, now plans to bring the mentorship model he fine-tuned while at MCCC to Schenectady. The new mentoring program that the school plans to launch for 100 students in the fall could expand schoolwide in three years, Moono said.

The school hopes to start with a pilot in the fall that will pair 100 faculty and staff mentors with 100 incoming students — about one-quarter of the new class of students. The program will start by targeting students deemed most at-risk of dropping or struggling with college course.

“Hopefully by the spring we will scale it up, because we already know what works,” Moono said. “If we can get them and get them situated correctly, get them the support they need, we can retain them and make sure they stick.”

Moono has called the role of mentors that of a “vision supporter,” facilitating a student’s long-term career goals. There will be set “touchpoints” the year the pairs would meet — at the beginning of the semester, three weeks in, mid-terms and other critical times of the year, but specifics of the relationship would be up to the mentors and students.

How often do we meet? How do we best communicate? Moono said he would expect that mentors would make themselves available to discuss challenges and questions at school but also to assist with personal problems.

Mentors — which will include volunteers from through the college workforce — and students will be paired at a group orientation before the start of the school year. An inventory of student interests, academic and personal, would be used to find the best fit.

For some, the relationship may be long lasting – as was the case with many of Moono’s mentees from MCCC.

“I will support your vision, I’m here for you, I will walk alongside you, I will be your greatest cheerleader,” Moono said of the mentor’s role. “Once they graduate, the relationship flips over; we become friends, we become colleagues.”

Alicia Richardson, an SCCC professor, and others have already expressed interest in volunteering for the program.

“There are all of these unspoken rules,” Richardson said of scheduling classes, reading a syllabus and navigating college. “If you don’t have any family members who have ever gone to college, you might not now about class schedules or what office hours are.”

That’s where the mentor comes in. Richardson said there already exists a lot of informal mentoring at community colleges but that it will be helpful to formalize that relationship and create the supports necessary to train mentors and provide access to things that mentees may need — money for books or others needs that arise.

“This is the one person that students know they can contact and is available to them for big issues and small issues,” Richardson said.

School officials plan to use Moono’s May inauguration as a chance to trumpet the mentoring program and ask the community for help. On May 14, the day after the inauguration, SCCC is holding an inaugural ball at the Armory in Schenectady. Touted as unprecedented in the Capital Region, the ball will serve as a fundraiser for the new mentors program.

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