VGCC students find new support system through men’s academy

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A unique, new program at Vance-Granville Community College is providing support, as well as new leadership opportunities, to male students.

The “Men’s Achievement Academy” began with an induction ceremony in October of 2019. Its stated mission is “to provide intentional support to male students that will empower them to accomplish their academic and career goals.” Any male student can join the academy, which boasts about 30 members currently.

At the core of the program is mentoring, according to Jeffrey Allen, the college’s Dean of Student Retention & Success and an advisor for the program (alongside Marque Debnam, who heads the Paralegal Technology at VGCC’s Franklin Campus).

“Our students’ mentors are members of our faculty and staff who volunteer their time,” Allen explained. “We provide training to the mentors, and we expect each mentor and ‘mentee’ to meet at least once a month face-to-face. Some choose to meet more often. In between, they communicate regularly via email or text.”

The academy also meets as a group monthly. “We base the topics for the meetings on what these students are interested in,” Allen said. Some meetings have discussed networking, careers, and health.

Recently, the academy was in the spotlight after Allen and other staff talked to mentees about the college’s annual celebration of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. “We explained to them that traditionally, this had often been more of a community event than a student activity,” Allen recalled. “We said, if we want our students to come, then we should have the students plan it.”

That’s exactly what the Men’s Achievement Academy did. Two students in the program co-chaired the committee for the Martin Luther King event: Osvaldo Martinez of Granville County, a student in the Radiography program; and Nicholas Addesso of Franklin County, a student in the Associate in Arts (College Transfer) program.

“What they came up with blew my mind,” said Allen. “They took a whole different direction than I imagined. They wanted to teach people about the life and legacy of Dr. King themselves.”

The mentees developed posters about Dr. King and used those posters as teaching tools, which were presented to visitors during a floating event on VGCC’s Main Campus. Lunch was served to students who listened to the presentation and answered questions about what they had learned. The lunch was provided by the VGCC Endowment Office with support from several community sponsors: Franklin-Vance-Warren Opportunity, Inc.; Judge Randolph and Sarah Baskerville; Judge Henry and Mamie Banks; and Duke Energy.

Allen said the Men’s Achievement Academy is meeting a widespread need for male students, and for minority males in particular. “My research for my dissertation at North Carolina State University has been about student success for African American males,” he said. “Research shows that these students want to know they are supported by their college. So I hope this program helps to encourage more males to feel welcome attending Vance-Granville, because they know there is a support system in place. And over time, we hope to see an impact on these students’ retention and completion rates.”

In addition to the strong role of mentoring by faculty and staff, Allen said one of the main pillars of the program is brotherhood. “We want the group to lean on each other and build relationships with each other, to provide support to one another and foster a sense of belonging,” he added.

“Dean Allen’s vision for this program and our male students being successful speaks volumes. The Men’s Achievement Academy is an important part of our student success agenda. We are supportive of the work of Dean Allen, Mr. Debnam and other faculty and staff who are mentoring the Academy participants” said Levy Brown, vice president of Learning, Student Engagement & Success.

Currently, VGCC is recruiting a second group, or cohort, to join the Men’s Achievement Academy in the fall 2020 semester. That recruitment effort includes students who are about to graduate from high school. Allen hopes for students from the first cohort of the program to serve as peer mentors to members of the second cohort.

For more information on the Men’s Achievement Academy, contact Jeffrey Allen at (252) 738-3405 or allenjl@vgcc.edu or Marque Debnam at (252) 738-3619 or debnamm@vgcc.edu.

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