It didn't take Sarah Hall long to discover that Central Michigan University was the best place for her.
Sure, she was nervous about coming to college as a freshman last year. She even cried when her parents left and went back to their home in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.
But as she wiped away her tears and got ready for IMPACT — CMU's mentoring program supporting multicultural student success — Hall soon realized she wasn't alone.
"I went to the bathroom to clean myself up, and another program participant talked to me and asked if I was OK," Hall said. "Afterward, we went into the program together. Her friendliness reminded me that I picked CMU because the people here are kind and will always make you feel welcome."
More than 250 first-year students attended the inaugural IMPACT program in 2016, and at least 280 are attending this year.
This two-day program introduces multicultural students to campus resources and connects them with mentors who help them adjust to life at CMU. They continue to meet with their mentors throughout the semester.
IMPACT had such a positive effect on Hall that she is serving as a mentor this year.
"I knew right after the program ended last year that I would want to be a mentor," said Hall, a public and nonprofit administration major and leadership minor. "With almost any leadership program I've been involved in, I've always come back and given back to the program and tried to impact others' lives like mine was impacted."
Proof positive for the program
Damon Brown is director of student activities and involvement and oversees IMPACT. He said the program was developed to help increase retention rates and GPAs of first-year multicultural students.
It also was created to increase involvement in campus activities to build a sense of community and belonging at CMU.
Brown said the program lives up to its name. Based on the first year's IMPACT participant survey results, at least 87 percent of the students said they felt a sense of belonging at CMU, saw themselves as a part of the university community and were able to develop strategies to be a successful student.
In addition, more than 90 percent said they understood what resources are available at CMU and the importance of being involved on campus.
Seasoned students know best
Students are responsible for planning and running IMPACT, Brown said.
"No one knows what our incoming multicultural students are experiencing except our current multicultural students," he said. "Each incoming student is paired with two upperclass mentors, who will conduct monthly meetings with them to see how they are transitioning after the IMPACT program has been completed."
Elayashia Kendall is a Flint senior serving as the administrative chair for the IMPACT planning team. She said she enjoys watching the students become more comfortable at CMU and develop as leaders throughout their first year on campus.
Having a program like this available during her freshman year would have been very valuable, said Kendall, a communication major with double minors in communication disorders and American Sign Language.
"It definitely would have helped me get involved on campus more quickly," she said.
Ikenna Osuamadi was one of 15 students on the planning team with Kendall for this year's event. He also served as a volunteer last year. The junior from Westland, Michigan, has seen firsthand how students respond to the connections and mentoring relationships this program builds.
Many participants have told him how, in just two short days of the program, they were able to develop lasting friendships and a sense of belonging at CMU.
"The positive energy they felt during IMPACT made them want to come back this year as leaders," said Osuamadi, a junior biomedical science major.
This is exactly what Hall has in mind as she moves forward as a mentor this year.
"I hope my participants find a safe space on campus and find the resources on campus they need to succeed," she said. "I hope they have a great experience so they can see CMU is the place for them."
On to Safari
All IMPACT students are required to follow up their experiences with participating in
Leadership Safari, a five-day program that helps new students learn how to be involved and academically successful at CMU.
Brown said Leadership Safari continues to assist students with their transition into CMU.
"It helps them connect with the rest of their freshman class and begin to build a sense of CMU community," he said. "It also helps them begin to build their leadership capacity."