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UW-Green Bay mentorship program assists early-career students of color

Campus BIPOC RISE program uses upperclassmen to help freshman, high school students navigate college

A student at a desk works with a crafting knife.
A Brookfield East High School participates in a painting and drawing class with other in-person students Monday, March 15, 2021, in Brookfield, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

The University of Wisconsin-Green Bay is using mentors in hopes of making first-year college and high school students of color feel more connected to campus and the greater community.

UW-Green Bay’s BIPOC R.I.S.E. program — which stands for Black, Indigenous and People of Color Reaching Intersectional Strengths Through Engagement — is a volunteer effort to pair students of color nearing graduation with those just starting their college careers.

Associate professor of psychology Christine Smith is a co-creator of the R.I.S.E. program. She told WPR the goal is to focus on undergraduate students and freshman in particular because creating a sense of belonging early on in their college careers is important.

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“We know that students who succeed in their first year are more likely to come back,” said Smith. “And their first year experience really is a big catalyst for whether they continue in college or not.”

The Green Bay campus is predominantly white, said Smith, but the greater community and regions the campus recruits from are becoming more diverse. She said that’s why creating BIPOC mentorships with upperclassmen of color is vital.

“So, we want to pair them up, first of all, with people who’ve been through it and people who’ve been successful as well, who can also help them negotiate this and just recognize that, you know, you’re important and we appreciate that you’re here at our university,” said Smith.

Hanna Beauchamp-Pope is a junior majoring in psychology at UW-Green Bay who is taking the R.I.S.E. mentorship program to Green Bay’s Preble High School. Beauchamp-Pope is a graduate of the high school and a former member of its Diversity Leadership club. She told WPR she’s mentoring current club members and setting academic, social, health and wellness and daily living goals. Beauchamp-Pope said those students can then mentor fellow high schoolers unsure about going into post-secondary education.

“The goal is to encourage them and motivate them to see that college is doable and that they have the power to achieve that,” said Beauchamp-Pope.

Beauchamp-Pope says there are nine UW-Green Bay college mentors in the R.I.S.E. program. She is working with around five high school mentees.

UW-Madison has a similar program, Mentorship Opportunities in Science and Agriculture for Individuals of Color, which pairs faculty, researchers and graduates of color with students to create a more welcoming environment for them at the predominantly white campus.

A 2012 study of peer-mentoring programs found that “a holistic peer-mentoring experience potentially has great value in extending not only individualized academic encouragement, but perhaps even more importantly, critical support for social integration, cultural capital and personal growth to students from social and economic backgrounds that traditionally have not had access to the higher education experience in the USA.”