West Chester University program aims to help Black male students succeed

WEST CHESTER, Pennsylvania (WPVI) -- West Chester University is empowering and supporting Black male students through a new program designed to defy a national trend in racial equity gaps for Black men in college.

The COMPASS (Commitment to the Objective of Mentoring, Perseverance, Achievement, Sustainability, and Success) program invites Black undergraduate students to participate in this effort developed to help them excel.

Tyler Rhoden is a third-year undergraduate from Philadelphia. He admits he struggled to adjust during his first months at West Chester.

"At West Chester University, I know that the graduation rate for African-American males is really low," he said.

"I didn't really fit in with a lot of things that was going on at campus at the time," Rhoden added. "So when I was introduced to this opportunity where we could be mentored by people like us, African-American males that know the ins and outs of school."

Rhoden was paired with Fred Fleming, a third-year graduate student at West Chester studying Higher Education, Counseling and Student Affairs. Fleming is now his academic mentor.

They meet at least once a week to go over grades, test scores, class selection and to discuss just about anything Rhoden has on his mind.

"Just having the mentorship and that extra help to push me to want to succeed and do better for myself, just checking in on me, not as just as a mentor, but as a friend and make sure I am going through the right paths," Rhoden said.

Fleming said, "I am not a teacher, professor, advisor. I am just somebody at West Chester here to help you, so let me help."

Along with the graduate mentors, students in the COMPASS program take part in a weekly study hall, and they have access to tutoring each week.

The undergraduate students in the program often seek advice and ask questions of their mentors on a variety of topics including mental health, financial aid, housing, and even ways to secure textbooks.

Dr. Tammy James, professor of health and coordinator of academic support services, said the program is based on the highly successful model that she continues to lead for the University's student-athletes.

"One thing that's been established very early on is that trust and respect between that graduate student and the mentor," James said. "For me, it was important for the undergrad students to see what success looked like, and we have those men walking across our campus. The chances of them crossing paths was not very likely, but this program can give that an opportunity to happen."

"It is an opportunity to connect these students with resources and services they might not otherwise take advantage of," she added.

The COMPASS program is still in a trial phase, but Rhoden has already signed on for next year. He has seen his grades improve and made a friend in Fleming.

"I just want to keep that same energy around me. Positive energy always does great, especially on campus," he said.
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