Building diversity through relationships: how the I AM Mentoring program is helping Anderson University look more like the Kingdom of God
Anderson University’s campus is brimming with students, faculty and staff, chatting in the hallways of the G. Ross Anderson, Jr. Student Center or throwing frisbee on Alumni Lawn.
But a new mentorship program has formed even more bonds at AU. The I AM Mentoring Program pairs freshman recipients of the scholarship with a mentor who can walk alongside them on their AU journey.
The Anderson University Office of Diversity and Inclusion at Anderson University began offering the Diversity and Inclusion Leaders Scholarship in fall of 2020, but the award marks only the beginning for recipients. Each student who receives the scholarship is woven into the I AM Mentoring Program.
“One goal of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion is to aid students of color to achieve institutional and educational success here at AU,” said Dr. James Noble, Anderson University’s vice president for diversity and inclusion. "The I AM Mentoring Program was designed for this purpose. The students will have the support of mentors to help guide and encourage them through their college years.”
Faculty and staff members served as mentors during the pilot year, but as the program moves forward, students in the program will become mentors for first-year students who receive the same scholarship. Dr. Noble said the program aims to facilitate strong student-to-student relationships between mentors and mentees in the future.
During the first year, students not only connected with their faculty and staff mentors, but also developed friendships with peers through events. The program incorporates opportunities for mentees to connect with other peers and mentors in the program through fun activities. For example, last spring, I AM students attended a board game event that gave mentors and mentees a chance to relax while getting to know each other.
“I have enjoyed the time I have had finding things in common with people I meet,” said Isaiah Custodio, a freshman majoring in kinesiology. “Getting to know other people actually helps me get to know myself better.”
Through the first year, faculty and staff modeled mentorship relationships for students. Mentors and mentees periodically met for office visits, chatted over coffee at Books and Beans and shared meals on campus.
"In short, without the ‘I AM’ there is no ‘us’," Williams said. "We (tell) our students not to hide the light of who they are in Christ or as diverse individuals, but to allow the world to see what makes them unique—to be a light to those around them of the goodness of the Lord and beauty of the diverse nature of each individual."
— Kevin Williams
Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion
“Through these varied events, we have developed a relationship marked by trust and friendship that has hopefully helped to build their confidence in their ability to achieve success both in and out of the classroom,” said Dr. Bob Hanley, vice provost and chair of the English department and an I AM faculty mentor of two students.
Scholarship recipients chose their mentors at the beginning of the school year, and the mentors served as one of the first relationships students built on campus. Dr. Noble said that mentees valued time with their mentors and enjoyed meeting and staying connected throughout the school year.
“I feel that the leaders who are greatly willing to help with the scholarship wanted us to have someone we can talk to throughout our journey,” said Keiara Powell, an elementary education major in the program. “I feel that they also wanted us to know that we will always have someone here for us.” As faculty, staff and students learn from people who are different from themselves, they can understand each other and grow in love for each other to create a “shalom environment” on campus, Dr. Noble said. He said mentors also learned from their mentees.
One mentor said that her mentees inspired her daily and motivated her to continue to build God’s kingdom at AU.
“Just as I try to inspire them; they also inspire me daily,” said Nicole Razor, who served as associate head coach for women’s basketball last year and who mentored several students, including Powell. “Their courage and dedication to serve as ambassadors in our campus community have truly motivated me to continue to do good work in helping build and create God’s kingdom here at AU.”
The program’s foundation is built on Scripture, said Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion Kevin Williams, who helped develop the program. The program’s motto is “I AM, and We Are,” and the name and mission of the program are shaped around John 8:12 and Matthew 5:14-16.
“In short, without the ‘I AM’ there is no ‘us’,” Williams said. “We (tell) our students not to hide the light of who they are in Christ or as diverse individuals, but to allow the world to see what makes them unique—to be a light to those around them of the goodness of the Lord and beauty of the diverse nature of each individual.”
As the program approaches its second year, the friendships it creates will continue the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s mission to reflect and celebrate the diversity of God’s Kingdom at AU.