Three years ago, Sydney Reed was feeling anxious about her plans to attend Central Michigan University. She was worried about everything: How would she make friends? Where should she study, and which classes should she take?
Her nerves began to get the best of her as move-in day approached. She wanted to wrap herself in the safety and security of friends and family. She certainly didn't want to give up her last few days of summer vacation to get to campus even earlier to attend a new pre-orientation event.
Looking back now, Reed said the decision to attend CMU's IMPACT program was the start of her educational and personal success.
Now the junior integrative public relations major is leading a team of her peers to plan this year's event for nearly 400 incoming freshmen.
Find your place
Reed is working with a core planning team that includes program chair Alize Mott-Jones, a senior double-majoring in women and gender studies and psychology. IMPACT didn't exist when Mott-Jones arrived from her hometown in Canton, Michigan.
Members of the IMPACT core team spend most of the year planning programs and activities.
"When I arrived here as a freshman, I wanted to go home. I had so much anxiety, and I didn't know who to ask for help," Mott-Jones said.
When IMPACT began her sophomore year, she jumped at the chance to make the transition easier for future students.
Reed and Mott-Jones hope IMPACT will help new students develop a network of on-campus supporters who will guide and encourage them through their first year.
"We want them to know that once they arrive, we're here to help. They don't have to navigate these four years alone. There are so many people here — faculty, staff and other students — who want them to succeed. We want them to know it's OK to reach out and ask for help," Reed said.
Reed said she and her core teammates have been at every new student orientation and at most of the Fire Up Fridays events registering incoming students for the program.
Prepare for IMPACT
Reed and Mott-Jones have been planning this year's IMPACT program for nearly nine months. While most people see the pre-orientation as a one-time event, IMPACT actually continues all year long with personal check-ins, workshops and team activities.
During the activities Aug. 16-18, 80 IMPACT mentors will work in teams of two to welcome and orient small groups of incoming students. In the mentoring "families," they'll address topics that will help students navigate their first few weeks on campus: locating the best places to study, finding student organizations and sharing their own experiences.
Throughout the year, mentoring families will reconnect for special workshops and events.
"We give the mentors talking points, but we want them to be free to talk about what is most important to their group. Sometimes that's learning about social activities, sometimes it's about understanding the transition from high school to college. This experience is all about giving them what they need to feel comfortable here," said Mott-Jones.
Then, during their first year, freshmen will hear from their IMPACT mentors frequently. It could be an email to check in, a quick coffee date to ask how things are going, or even an invitation to attend a campus event such as Get Acquainted Day or the Multicultural Student Leadership Conference.
Finding your true self
IMPACT is open to students of all backgrounds but is designed to be especially relevant for multicultural students.
"There's a culture shock that many students experience when coming to CMU. IMPACT is designed to help ease the worries of incoming students and to allow them to understand that there are numerous communities on campus in place to ensure their success as a student," Reed said.
Both Reed and Mott-Jones said CMU was the first place they'd encountered successful black women in leadership.
"As a first-year participant in the program, I remember seeing student leaders walk out on the stage during the welcoming remarks and thinking, 'that could be me,'" Reed.
During the opening ceremonies, it was upperclassmen — students — who do most of the talking, something that surprised Reed.
"You expect to hear from administrators, but instead it's student voices you're hearing and student faces that you see. I knew right then that I wanted to be one of those students," she said.
Meet your role model
Students are encouraged to meet others outside of their assigned mentoring family, Mott-Jones said, and to look for on-campus role models.
Her own campus mentor was an upperclassman who pushed her to explore student organizations and get involved. She also held Mott-Jones accountable for her own success and happiness.
"You need a role model close by. It's not the same as having a professional mentor, because this is a person who is right here in the same space physically. We can sit down and talk about what we're experiencing in real time. It's not always about what will happen down the road, sometimes it's about what's happening now," Reed said.
Mott-Jones said she maintains close contact with her group of mentees.
"I want to give them the tools they need to be successful. I want to be a resource, and if I'm not the right person to help, I'm going to help them find someone who can. We're all on different journeys, but there is always someone on this campus who can help you take that next step or get what you need," she said.
Leading to success
Both Reed and Mott-Jones feel they're getting much more from leading IMPACT than they anticipated. The yearlong commitment to the program has flexed every one of their leadership muscles: communication, public speaking, organization, time management and teamwork.
They believe IMPACT is worth the effort.
"When you find something you can be passionate about, it's easier to put in the hard work. That's the great thing about CMU. You have all these avenues for involvement, so you can always find ways to be involved in the things you care about and to truly make an impact," Reed said.