News Release, College of Southern Maryland

Every fall for nearly a decade, the College ofSouthern Maryland (CSM)has welcomed itsAfrican American students to join itsMen of Excellence Program– acollege-wide initiativeaimed atimprovingthe recruitment, success, retention, graduation and transfer rates ofblackmenwho enter as first-time, full- or part-time students at the college.The program was recentlyhighlightedata‘Lunch andLearn’as part ofCSM’s 30-Day Justice Challengethat has hadCSM communitiesspending the month of July learning about racial injustices against?black people in America.

“This is a necessary program and serves an immeasurable role on our campuses,” CSM’sDirectorofOrganizational Development and Learning InstituteTrenaceRichardsontold the Lunch and Learn audience.“We took a look at this population and recognized, based on data and graduation rates, that we needed to help support the African American male population better.”

While all mentoring programs help improve student performance and graduation rates, some community colleges are finding that minority mentorship programs are even more beneficial, reported the Community College Review in 2018. “Colleges across the country are celebrating the outstanding results achieved through the collaborative efforts of on-campus minority mentoring programs.”?? 

“We provide empowerment, leadership and academic resources,”explainedTimFenner, who coordinates Men of Excellence.“Weconnect our students with assistance in the areas ofmental health,student planning, advisingandfinancial aid,”heexplained. “We areamentoringcommunity and together we grow.

“To be able to positively influence youths’lives– it is by far the best position I’ve ever had,”hetold theLunch andLearn audience. “Every year we watchtheretention ratesand Grade Point Averages (GPA)for our African American male studentsimprove.”

There is still a long way to go toclose the equity gap,Fenneracknowledged, “but we are making strideshere at CSMandI love this job.”

CSM’spromiseto close equity gapswasemphasized inthe heart-felt messagepenned by CSM President Dr. Maureen MurphyMay 29, four days after the death of George Floyd.

“A college education is commonly understood as a ticket to a better life, and at the College of Southern Maryland, we embrace our mission to close the equity gap, so?all?learners can improve their lives and the lives of their families,” Murphywrote in an open letter. “Racism is not welcome here. Intolerance is not welcome here. Bigotry is not welcome here.? But people are welcome here. Our black learners. Our white learners. Our Asian learners. OurLatinxlearners. Our LGBTQIA learners.? Everyone, but right now we especially want our black learners to know our commitment to them is unwavering.”

Black Lives Matter: Studentsare Awakening

In response to Black Lives Matter, and because of COVID 19, Fenner said that the Men of Excellence Program shifted last semester – and has continued through the summer – to give students a place to connect, to discuss current affairs and to support each other in a virtual setting instead of face-to-face.

“Like everything else, we adjusted to meet weekly in Zoom,” he said. “And during those meetings we cover the gamut. We talk about what’s going onand how we feel about it. The students are awakening andarelooking at things differently. We spend a lot of time talking about ourAfrican Americanhistory.”

Fennersaid thateveryAfrican American male student iswelcome to participate actively or passively in the programandpastparticipants have ranged in age from 18 to 68. Thecurrentweekly Wednesday Zoom meetings have seen between five and 25 studentsin attendance.

To further explain the unique and pertinent mentoring offered by Men of Excellence during the lunch event, Ellen Flowers-Fields, CSM associate vice president of Continuing Education and Workforce Development talked about an event last fall that had CSM alum and Charles County’s first African American Sheriff Troy Berry speak with students about how to interact with police officers.

“In light of whathas beengoing on, the students really resonatedwith, and understood,”what Berry was teaching them,Flowers-Fieldsshared. “The studentsleft very empowered about what their rights are when they encounter police officers as African American men.”

“It is critical that ourblack male students have a person like Tim,who looks like them,and who isrepresentative of the achievements to which black men can aspirein higher education”saidCSM CounselorKellieJamison.“Statisticsindicate that,black men don’t matriculateat the same rate as their counterpartswhere academics is concerned.Thereare fewerblack menin higher educationthan otherundergraduate studentscomparatively.It’stremendouslyimportantour studentshave someonewith whomthey can relate;who looks like themandwhomight have greater awareness and insightas totheuniquechallengesblack male students face.”

“Those of us who are student-facing in any way – particularly faculty or in financial aid – we are becoming aware, more aware – getting a deeper depth of knowledge about what the Men of Excellence program is and will be directing our African American mento the program,” shared Richardson, pointing to CSM’s over-arching approach to equity and student success.

Men of Excellence ParticipantMicah Kay Welcomes New Studentsthis Fall

One of the students whowill welcome new CSM students during the college’s first virtual student orientationthis fallis CSM second-year psychology major and active Men of Excellence member Micah Kay.

“I am a member of distinguished group of brothers at theCollege ofSouthern Maryland– theMen of Excellence,” he shared with viewers in a pre-recorded video.

“One of the skills I have picked up while being in the Men of Excellence is that it has helped me grow my communications skills,” hesaid. “It has put me in environments with a variety of communications; with variety of communicators; with a variety of different people talking in different formats and in different ways. It has allowed me to grow in that area and I am grateful.”(see below)

Kay encouragedstudents to join the program, adding “it exposes you to peoplewhowill make you a better person for your future and a better person in college right now.”

Thankstohis involvement with the Men of Excellence,Kayentered andbecamethe 2020 collegiate-level winner of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.®, Nu Zeta Omega Chapter’s MLK Day of Service Essay Contest. Results of the contest were announced earlier this year during the MLK Day of Service Program at St. Mary’s College of Maryland.

Kay successfully wrote on the topic of “The Harlem Renaissance: Its Contributions and Its Challenges for Us Today.” The contestants were challenged to describe the lessons learned from the Renaissance and to apply the quote, “The past is prologue” to the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the present time with support from personal experiences.(ReadKay’s essayhere.)

To learn more aboutCSM’sMen of Excellence, visitwww.csmd.edu/student-life/men-of-excellence/.

About Men of Excellence:The CSM African American mentoring program started in 2011 at the La Plata Campus. It became the Men of Excellence program when it expanded to offer services at the Leonardtown and Prince Frederick campuses in 2013.TimFennertook the helmas coordinatorin 2017.

TheCSMMen of Excellence Programis designed to empower students to meet their academic and professional goals, and provide an array of services meant to increase student engagement, as well as encourage community-building among all participants. By partnering with offices throughout Student Equity and Success and Academic Affairs, the program assists students with mapping their academic, personal, and professional goals and developing leadership skills increasing their capacity for educational success.

About the CSM 30-Day Justice Plan:Inspired by journalistShaanMerchant’s “30-Day Justice Plan,”CSMfaculty, staff and students have spentthe month of July learning about racial injustices against?black people in Americabydevoting at least eight minutes and 46 seconds each day to reading, listening, watching, and acting?–?taking steps toward mutual understanding,?equality, and?justice.