A few days before Move-In Day in late August 2019, about 25 freshmen and their families began a journey to pioneer a new initiative aimed at recruiting and empowering minority students to become deeply rooted in the campus community during their time at UM.
These students became the inaugural members of the new four-year Montevallo M.A.D.E. initiative, which stands for “Minorities Achieving Dreams of Excellence.”
During their first few days in the residence halls, the M.A.D.E. participants heard from multiple speakers, had a chance to become familiar with the campus and completed icebreaker activities to get acquainted with the group of peers who will be traveling through the program with them over the next few years.
“The overall goal of Montevallo M.A.D.E. is to assist incoming minority students with the transition into Montevallo and then to offer them support while they are here,” said UM Director of Executive Affairs and Liaison to the Board of Trustees Dr. Kristalyn Lee. “That will lead to timely graduation and them being prepared for their next steps after graduation. We want to support them from the time that they’re admitted students to the time they graduate.”
Lee, Student Diversity Recruitment and Relations Coordinator Jason Perry ’18 and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer Dr. Sierra Turner are working together to implement and continually develop the M.A.D.E. program as it grows.
During the academic year, Lee, Perry, Turner and alumni mentors will work closely with students in the program to ensure they are meeting their academic goals, developing strong social and leadership skills and successfully adjusting to the rigors of college life.
The freshmen who entered the program with the current academic year will become mentors for next year’s M.A.D.E. participants, and the program will continue to grow as each new class is added.
During a student’s junior year, the program will focus on internships and soft skills development, and senior year will focus on securing employment after graduation. One of the major focuses of M.A.D.E. will be ensuring the students feel plugged in to and involved in the UM family, which often correlates with academic success.
“That’s why programs like M.A.D.E. are so important because they provide the academic, professional and social skills they need to not only come to college, but to persist and graduate,” Turner said. “It’s especially important that when students get on campus they get involved in the surrounding community. We want to help students make those connections. All of this is a very deliberate design to help students engage with what’s happening on campus. We want them to feel connected to Montevallo.”
Perry said M.A.D.E. is seeking to make potential students more aware of the diverse, inclusive and welcoming atmosphere long present on the UM campus.
“As a recent grad myself, I can say that it is important that you get that opportunity to be ingrained in the diverse population that Montevallo provides. I can truly say that I am excited about this program on a personal level as an alumnus, current student and a staff member,” Perry said. “I’m excited about bringing to life what Montevallo’s been able to do for me and past students already. I think it’s going to be transformative for any minority student who comes through UM in the coming years.”
Focused on the big picture
Montevallo M.A.D.E. is the latest program spearheaded by the UM Diversity and Inclusion initiative, and is a component in a larger initiative to recruit, retain and serve all minority students at Montevallo.
As a first-generation college graduate and Montevallo’s chief diversity and inclusion officer for more than a year, Turner said she knows firsthand the importance of creating a welcoming, inclusive culture for all students on a university campus.
The University continually gathers feedback from UM’s minority students and uses the information to develop programs aimed at meeting their needs and helping them to be as connected as possible to the University.
“One of the biggest things we did was the campus climate survey we did during the spring semester last year. The responses we got were really helpful in understanding the dynamics of the campus,” Turner said, noting surveys were distributed to UM students, faculty and staff. Using the information from those surveys, we’ve been trying to come up with different programming that we feel will address some of those issues or meet the needs of some of the students.”
Using this feedback, the Diversity and Inclusion Office has developed multiple programs to help achieve the University’s diversity goals.
Meet Me at Montevallo is a program aimed at bringing students from inner-city school systems to Montevallo for a day to experience what it’s like being a college student. Each fall, the program focuses on high school seniors and seeks to familiarize them with UM faculty, staff and current students. Spring sessions are aimed at high school juniors and focus on explaining the resources available to UM students.
Montevallo is developing a similar program for Hispanic students called Descubrimos Juntos, which means “We discover together” and will offer Spanish-language tours of campus.
Turner also oversees a program offering scholarships to Birmingham City Schools valedictorians and salutatorians and administers the gown lending project, which helps to ease the financial burden of purchasing a graduation cap and gown for low-income, first-generation college students.
Throughout each academic year, Diversity and Inclusion holds numerous faculty workshops dealing with topics such as race, equality, inclusivity and creating a culturally responsive atmosphere in all areas of campus life.
Although each of the University’s minority initiatives focuses on a specific area, they are all rooted in the UM tagline “You Belong at Montevallo.”
“All of the programs came about based on conversations we’ve had with students, and they all foster connections,” Turner said. “We can get students on campus, but it’s important what we do to keep them here.”