Learning the ropes

by Erin Madsen

Lorren Hulton woke up Thursday morning nervous and curious about how the next three days’ events would unfold. She would, after all, soon be thrown into the roles of tour guide, counselor, cook and confidant for someone she barely knew.
After hours of classes and studying, the Carlson School of Management sophomore arrived at the African American Learning Resource Center to pick up Andry (A.J.) Jackson, her high school mentee.
Hulton, along with nine other University students, was a weekend mentor to seven Minneapolis high school students who might not otherwise visit a college campus as prospective students.
“I’ve always wanted to give back to the community,” Hulton said. “It’s amazing how you can help other people’s lives.”
The mentorship program, a collaboration between the South Minneapolis Blaisdell YMCA and the University’s African American Learning Resource Center, is in its first year.
Tony Diggs, associate director of the AALRC, said he began working on the “College Life 101” weekend nearly a year ago with Blaisdell YMCA director Cynthia Knutson.
“It’s a social and cultural experience,” Diggs said. “It’s a collaborative effort to provide actual and practical college experience inside and out of the classroom.”
From 4 p.m. Thursday until Saturday afternoon, the high school students were able to observe college life basics firsthand with the help of the University students acting as mentors.
The students received a full college experience, from admissions and campus tours to staying overnight in a campus apartment and joining in the cheers at a men’s basketball game.
The pairs were also provided ample free time to wander the campus, dine and relax in conversation.
After the initial meeting on Thursday evening, the entire group dined at Sanford Hall for the priceless experience of dorm food. All the high schoolers agreed that the food was not a highlight of their visit.
Then Hulton and A.J., a Washburn junior, joined the other mentoring pairs at the St. Paul Student Center to play pool.
“They were excited and inquisitive,” Hulton said. “I think they felt comfortable with us.”
Although the pairs had met two weeks prior, Hulton said the excursion allowed everyone to get to know one another a bit better.
After several games, Hulton and fellow mentor Suzie Ghiwet, a General College freshman, introduced A.J. and Pam Fanning, an ALC junior, to their friends on the University football team at University Village.
“We wanted to introduce them to our friends, so they would feel more comfortable,” Hulton said. “I don’t know if they’ve had anyone to open up to.”
Next stop, Hulton’s apartment at the Chateau in Dinkytown was where the two pairs would spend Thursday and Friday nights together.
“We watched television and talked about guys and school,” Hulton said. “The late night talks were more personal because they were able to open up outside of school.”
By expressing their feelings and thoughts in a secure setting, Hulton said, the mentees began to trust their guidance and abandon their reserve.
“Our goal is to gain a friendship,” Hulton said. “To be a role model and a friend.”
After the late night talks subsided the mentors and mentees went to bed, knowing their free time would soon be consumed by scheduled events and classes.
Friday morning came all too soon for mentees A.J. and Pam. Dining on Hulton’s homemade bacon sandwiches, the girls prepared themselves for their first day of college.
Early in the morning, the seven mentees arrived at an East Bank classroom to hear admissions counselor, Tyra Zuchowski, speak about financial aid, major requirements and the initial college application.
Hulton brought A.J. and Pam to her mortuary science class in Jackson Hall after the admissions presentation.
As they listened to a lecture they could never hear in high school, A.J. and Pam experienced another college life perk: eating in class.
While eating their McDonald’s lunch, the girls learned that funeral directors should never look down when someone is crying because that reflects shame. Instead, the director should look the weeper in the eye and gently smile because that says “it’s okay to cry.”
A.J. said the class surprised her. “It was cool,” she said. “It wasn’t as disgusting as I thought it would be.”
When the mentees arrived at the Andersen Library for a presentation of the Archie Givens Collection, which preserves African American literary history, many were too tired to concentrate on the material.
After learning about the collection, the pairs ate dinner and headed to Roseville to see “Remember the Titans.”
“I love that movie,” A.J. said. “That movie is the bomb.”
Hulton and Ghiwet brought A.J. and Pam to Santana’s Market and Deli where they ate dinner after the movie and later returned home for another 3 a.m. conversation session.
Saturday morning proved to be recuperative, as the girls slept as late as possible until they had to meet the entire mentoring group for the men’s basketball exhibition game at William Arena.
A.J. and Pam had mixed reviews of the exhibition game. “I didn’t like it,” A.J. said. “I don’t like basketball.” Pam said she liked the game but was disappointed that the Gophers mascot Goldy did not give her a mini basketball.
After the game, it was time for the mentees to return home.
Before catching a ride on the YMCA van, A.J. and Pam exchanged phone numbers with Hulton and Ghiwet.
The phone numbers will come in handy as Hulton and Ghiwet continue to provide guidance to A.J. and Pam.
In addition to the weekend’s activities, both mentors decided to extend their mentoring to monthly YMCA visits.
“This weekend allowed them to get comfortable with us,” Ghiwet said. “But they need more structured guidance with college decisions.”
“Maybe we could make an impact and come to them,” Hulton added. “They will know that someone is there to help them — someone on their level who is experiencing it now by just leaving high school two years ago.”
As for future college weekends, both Hulton and A.J. said there should be additional free time, picnics and less structured activities like the Archie Givens Collection presentation.
“I feel satisfied knowing that the girls got a little bit comfortable with us,” Hulton added. “As far as their enjoyment — they didn’t complain to me.”

The Program
The seven high school students participating in “College Life 101” are participants of the state and federally funded Learn and Earn program.
South Minneapolis YMCA Director Cynthia Knutson said Learn and Earn’s goal is to help “at-risk” students get into higher education.
The program follows students through high school and researches the role of educational structure in inner-city youth.
Participants must complete 250 hours of YMCA involvement each year for four years in order to receive more than $5,000 for any two- or four-year Minnesota college.
The program’s areas of concentration are academic tutoring, personal development, service learning and cultural enrichment.
Knutson said the University was chosen for the mentorship weekend in order to assist the students in personal development and cultural enrichment.
“(The University) has the most diversity,” she said. “We’ve been on seven college visits and they felt very comfortable on this campus.”

Erin Madsen welcomes comments at [email protected]