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New program at Ivy Tech to help African-American men stay in school

Wednesday, September 11, 2013 - 12:01 am

Less than 1 percent of the African-American men who enter Ivy Tech Community College ever graduate.

A new program is working to change that number. A group of faculty members have started an academic and social support group for these students. The program, the African American Male Initiative, AAMI, has several goals. The first is to find the African-American men who are currently enrolled as Ivy Tech students who are willing to accept assistance in the navigation of their academic career. The second is to mentor and inspire those individuals by connecting them with successful local, regional and national African-American males. The last part is to build lasting relationships through open honest dialogue, to track and report their academic success in the support of Achieving the Dream (ATD) and to demand the commitment of the participants and expect results in the short term. ATD was a national data-driven program to see where students are falling down on the achievement ladder, so that educators could better address these disparities.

Dr. Diana Jackson-Davis and John Mason, the latter now chair of the group, started talking about the plan in 2008. Originally it was an offshoot of the Achieving the Dream initiative. By looking at the data, they discovered the most challenged group at Ivy Tech are African-American male students. Mason said it was really Jackson-Davis who came up with the idea of a new program that targets that group and improves their graduation rates. From 2008 to 2010 faculty and administrators brainstormed on what the program should do. It is just this semester that the group has gone public and is working toward the community service goal of the organization. So far this fall they have had a public cookout and had James L. Moore from Ohio State, associate provost in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, come in and speak. They are continuing to reach out to community groups and establish relationships with their campus group.

They have also been connecting with local African-American community leaders to come in and speak, giving the students a chance to establish a relationship with a successful minority male in the Fort Wayne. Not only are they able to see successful members of society, they are able to engage in a dialogue and with people who are working to change these disparities.

“By having the political, education, and business leaders come in from the community and interact with these young men it helps to empower them and shows them there is a light at the end of the tunnel,” Mason said.

Jackson-Davis said the professional development really helps the students develop their own self-awareness of what they want to do with their lives, and the program is just there to support that.

The AAMI is an open group, Mason said. The faculty has a one on one relationship with the students. The faculty provides the framework and the students work within the structure. They try and remove the hierarchy so that students feel more comfortable talking with the faculty.

Mason said the struggle to graduate isn't always academic. The African-American community is family relationship-based. If these young men never make a connection with their teachers or community leaders, they drop out. What the group does is make it easier for them to make these connections, and the students stay.

“They do well and they persist because they know someone is there to help them,” Jackson-Davis said.

Mason said in the past within the African American culture, education has been seen as something that is not manly. African-American men are less likely to ask for help than African-American women, which is why the men are less likely to succeed.

They have had up to 15 young men in the group, right now they have a constant core group of six who have really persisted. This year, since they have gone public, they are actively recruiting students to join the program. The program is open to both genders and races, it is not exclusive to African-American men. But Mason said, they have a vested interest to help the most challenged to succeed. There are approximately 600 African-American men registered at Ivy Tech, which is about 15 percent of the student population.

“We have to reach them early and connect to keep them from dropping out,” Jackson-Davis said.

Mason said other regional Ivy Tech institutions are following their lead and starting similar groups on their campuses. Mason is working to unite them in one large organization so they can help each other.