S.T.E.P.: STUDENTS TOGETHER EMPOWERING PEERS
Since 2003, STEP has brought together a community of a determined and diverse group of first-generation students. Entering college as a first-generation student can be terrifying, but having programs such as STEP make this journey a little easier. STEP’s goal is to make sure its first-generation students are comfortable at a university, which will be their home for the next four years.
You may be wondering: What is STEP? Why is this so important?
STEP is a program mainly ran by second through fourth-year college mentors and lead mentors. Lead mentors are students who were chosen to run the Fall class, whereas regular mentors are given a family of roughly 2-3 freshman students to help guide throughout the semester. Classes meet once a week for an hour and a half. Within this period, mentors create presentations on various lessons that would benefit first-generation students, such as resumé building, self care, and financial literacy. This class, however, isn’t like any other at the University of Redlands. Mentors meet with their mentees outside the classroom to help introduce them to new places and to create bonds that last beyond college.
Although this program may seem to be an easy-going one, it comes with a lot of preparations. To become a mentor, you must have been a mentee, take a spring course that trains students to have the skills to communicate with mentees, and have to go through the application process and be approved. Not only can trainees apply to become mentors, but can for Summer Bridge as well.
Before first-generation students get to their first STEP class, many have the opportunity to attend the Summer Bridge Program. This program is a pre-college experience designed for incoming students to get a sense of familiarity with on-campus resources and off-campus places to visit. The Summer Bridge Program started in 2004 and has progressively made an impact on students entering the University of Redlands. This goes to show how efficient these programs have been for first-year students.
Jordan Belew, Freshman Mentee, attended the Summer Bridge this past summer.
“[The program] really impacted me because I could connect with people before I started this new journey,” Belew said. “Since I made several friends, I knew people coming in that could help me with classes, clubs, and other things. Instead of being overwhelmed by all of the new experiences of college, it allowed me to stay calm because I could talk to others about my situation. I happened to find my two best friends at the summer bridge, as I was roommates with one of them. They have impacted my life for the better, and it hasn’t even been a semester yet. If I didn’t go to Summer Bridge, I wouldn’t have met them, and I don’t think I would have been as successful and happy as I am now.
Students who are part of this program, both mentor and mentee, have invoked change within the community. Many are Community Assistants, Club Officers, and are part of Greek Life.
I interviewed Irad Leon, a third-year student, and STEP Mentor.
“[The program] helped me grow in numbers ways,” Leon said. “It has taught me how to be a better role model and mentor. It has also taught me how to not only overcome the adversities of being a first-generation student but turn them into strengths.” Leon is also part of the Queer/Trans People of Color (QTPOC) Affinity Group. He explains, “We are a collective that aims to make an inclusive space that focuses on LGBT+ people of color but open to all to join. We seek to educate Non-QTPOC about societal issues but also provide a safe space for people to hang out with other QTPOC and express themselves as they please. I am a CORE member of the club, CORE leads in a non-hierarchical system that allows anyone passionate about the club to help out with running the club.”
QTPOC meets every Thursday from 4-6pm on the first floor of Hunsaker, in the Gender Justice Center and Pride Center. They are holding an upcoming event this Friday (11/15), which they will be watching POSE and giving details about what to wear for The QTPOC Ball happening in December. Leon stated that “the event will be held on Friday, December 6, which will allow people to dress up and walk the runway while being cheered on by others, even allowing people to form their own houses and perform against each other for victory if they so choose.”
Whether you are a first-year student and not part of STEP, you are still part of the future of Redlands, and there is always a place to call home on campus. Even if you are not a first-generation student, you can come and support the events that are held around campus. The support from students and staff around campus can bring awareness to the first generation community but also creates a broader group of students willing to support other students.
Photographs contributed by Nikki Ramirez and Luis Chavez.