11/26/12 — Helping make men

View Archive

Helping make men

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on November 26, 2012 1:49 PM

Wayne Community College is putting its own brand on a mentoring program with a mission to retain and graduate black male students.

"Once they're here, we have a responsibility to help them move on, whether that be going on to a job, going into the military, or going to a four-year institution," said Demetrius Sykes, minority male mentoring program coordinator and an achievement coach. "Ideally, we would like them to get a degree or certification from here."

Minority Male Mentoring, or 3M, was introduced at Wayne Community College in 1996 and has been replicated at 46 community college campuses in the state.

Grants and other funding have sustained the program, which features bi-monthly meetings, speakers and seminars, as well as study halls and tutors. The numbers have steadily risen, with about 64 members currently involved.

The WCC club was renamed this year, to "Man Made -- Making a New Man and Driving Education."

"It's a different student today than there was 10 years ago, 20 years ago," Sykes said. " The minority male is the truest minority in any community college. ... A lot of times these are the only black males in the classroom. Their insecurities are being brought to light in their own mind."

The black male, he explained, has not always been the most educated or strongest provider in the home. All the more reason a program such as this needs to exist, and why it is being redirected to one that is more "academically delivering."

"Quite honestly, previously we didn't track academic progress like we do now," he explained. "We definitely want to help build in their personal lives, help them be better boyfriends, husbands, because that's been lost."

His department has morphed its efforts to support students in that regard, Sykes said.

"We no longer have officers. Now we have student leaders and those student leaders are able to identify other students with strong leadership qualities so when the program continues to grow, we'll never have more than nine members on each team," he said. "Each team has a coach, an advisor and a program coordinator, myself. Basically, that's so that we can have more people hands-on with each individual."

These days, the college is seeing more full-time and part-time students and, likewise, a higher number of first-generation students, the first in their families to attend college.

Sykes, a WCC graduate, was himself a member of the program as a student.

"There's practically nothing that they have experienced that I didn't experience -- single parent, prior military," he said.

He also understands the obstacles to obtaining an education, which oftentimes occur outside the classroom.

"I want to help them overcome some of those problems -- child care, transportation, various different issues at home and just in their personal lives," he said. "Students feel more comfortable when they have someone that they can directly go to."

Having a network of people to support and mentor them is vital, Sykes said. And this program builds not only camaraderie, but relationships.

"With the program we want to encourage the men in different ways, teach them how to write a resume, how to dress and how to set a table and also extend their network so that they can be creative," he said. "They also learn from each other, that they're not in this alone."

Virgil Shaw, 24, said the club has helped him achieve goals he previously thought were impossible.

"When I talk to Demetrius, someone who has been there and did it, he can offer me advice and I can go around some of the rocks in the road," he said. "This club is definitely my foundation and it's a foundation that I feel I have gratefully benefited from. I'm like a minority in going to school in my family."

His dad, he said, only went as far as third grade while his mother completed high school. Shaw is the first to pursue a college education, so he appreciates the support the mentoring program has provided.

"I think by being here to talk to Demetrius, it gives me a sense of mental poise. He told me to break it down into increments, into small pieces," Shaw said. "I focus on what I did and let it be a metaphor for what I can do tomorrow. So I'm very excited about school. I think it's a goal that's within arm's reach."

The Goldsboro High School graduate has aspirations to graduate not only from WCC, but to pursue a master's degree and become a counselor.

Sean Sullivan, 18, is in his second year at WCC. The Rosewood High School graduate is studying simulation game development and plans to open up his own company one day. The mentoring program has supported him in moving toward that.

"It kind of helped me become more independent and things like that and helped me get a better understanding, just stay focused and do what I've got to do," he said.

Tyrone Starkie, an achievement coach, said the intent is to help students achieve their goals and stay on track.

"They're basically working a blueprint," he said. "You sit down with them and give them options."