Gwen Etter-Lewis, professor of English, black world studies and women's studies at Miami University, recently received the Uplifting Model Award from Miami’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for her work in developing a mentoring program that prepares low-income high school girls for college.
Through the program, R.E.A.C.H., Miami students meet with the high school girls once a week each semester for about six consecutive weeks. This semester, six Miami students are paired with 17 students from Cincinnati area high schools.
During these meetings, the girls participate in numerous activities that are specific toward their needs and that help them with their college application process. Some of these activities include strengthening the high school girls’ study skills and teaching them how to use online resources to search for information about colleges and financial aid.
“Some of the girls have been a part of the program since the beginning,” said Miami senior Vanessa Miles. “It is interesting seeing how some of them are now eager to apply to college, they’ve even expressed their interest in coming to Miami.”
Miles, a psychology major from Euclid, has been involved with R.E.A.C.H. for the past three years and hopes to build a career working with children.
“I enjoy writing with the students and being able to help them with their applications and getting their essays together,” Miles added. “You notice that at first, school was not a priority to them, but now they've become interested, they want to sit in some (college) classes and get the full experience.”
According to Etter-Lewis, “The mentoring program is a learning process. The high school girls and the Miami students are given the opportunity to learn more about themselves at the same time that they are helping others. I am truly impressed by the Miami students’ selfless commitment. They are extremely devoted to their involvement.”
Along with Miles, approximately 20 Miami students have embraced the opportunity to influence the lives of these teenage girls.
“When I was younger, I had a lot of people helping me with my college decision, I feel like this is the best way to give back,” said Natasha Kelly, a Miami junior black world studies major from Bronx, N.Y.
Miles added, “I feel proud when the girls inform us of their college enrollment. It is important to acknowledge the girls who have been working on improving their grades so that they can get accepted into college.”
Among the five senior girls who were involved in the program last year, three went on to college. The other two girls are currently working in their local communities with plans to continue their education in the future.
R.E.A.C.H. is partnered with Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing and Harmony Garden, who provide transportation for the girls and help with their needs. In addition, the following departments at Miami also support the program: English, black world studies, women’s studies, community engagement and service, admission, diversity affairs and the Center for American and World Cultures.