Clarke University is proud to announce a gift from Alliant Energy to grow our new Peer Mentor Program. The $3,000 grant will allow the collaboration between the Clarke Engagement & Intercultural Office, the MARC, and Social Work Department to increase the number of participants for fall 2021.
Focusing on first-generation and underrepresented students, the Peer Mentor Program launched in spring 2021. The program paired four incoming students with sophomores and juniors to help them navigate their new home at Clarke University. It also gave students a safe space to talk about the unique challenges that arise as a person of color in a predominantly white community.
Each student was strategically matched with a mentor to provide practical learning guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching. In turn, the mentors were provided with extensive training in creating customized goals and benchmarks for their mentees, ensuring a successful relationship for both parties.
“The goal of the Peer Mentor Program is to meet the social and academic needs of traditionally underrepresented students by pairing them with a current student who can help them navigate Clarke to their fullest potential,” said Renee Smith, Assistant Director of Engagement and Intercultural Programs. “The Alliant Energy Grant for the Peer Mentor Program allows for the program to have more mentors, which means we can continue to serve more students.”
The Peer Mentor Program was developed as part of a practicum for Master of Social Work major Clare Keast, who prepared all the initial research and framework for implementation. The experience benefitted the Clarke community while also giving Keast practical work experience.
“By working with various departments on campus, Clare was able to experience macro-level social work. She helped us build the program from the ground up,” Smith said. “From research to training and supervising the mentors, Clare was a critical piece to the program throughout the year.”
Research gathered by Keast demonstrated that students of color are more likely to experience greater psychological stress than their white counterparts due to microaggressions, racism, isolation, and cyberbullying, yet are half as likely to seek help as their white counterparts. These students often do not have the same access to support systems and resources when first entering college due to language barriers, separation from family and friends, or different academic expectations. The Peer Mentor Program works to build these support systems for the students that need them most.
Alliant Energy supports efforts like Clarke’s Peer Mentor Program through community grants. They awarded $8.7 million in 2020 to nonprofits and community partners in Iowa and Wisconsin. Their works address Hunger and Housing, Workforce Readiness, Environmental Stewardship, and Diversity, Safety, and Wellbeing efforts.