MSU program connects diverse, first-gen students with mentors

Local News

SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Angela Lopez is the first in her family to navigate the American college system, and she had to figure it all out on her own. If that wasn’t difficult enough, imagine going through that process in 2020.

“When you’re thinking about going to college, you are not expecting to go during a pandemic,” she said.

But Lopez says one specific group on campus has made the transition a lot easier, not only making her feel welcomed but also empowered.

“Something I learned about Bears L.E.A.D is how valuable my diversity is, and how my diversity adds a really great perspective into any room I walk into,” said Missouri State freshman Angela Lopez. “And be a voice for people that sometimes aren’t heard as often.”

Bears L.E.A.D. is a group for first-generation students, and students from Latinx, African-American, and other diverse backgrounds, to connect to resources and opportunities on campus. It stands for Leadership, Empowerment, Achievement, and Diversity.

Students meet once a month to learn about opportunities on campus, including being paired with a graduate mentor.

“As someone who is planning on getting a master’s one day, seeing someone who looks like me doing that right now is great, ” Lopez said.

This year, the organization is taking those efforts into the Springfield community and beyond to connect first-generation students with diverse professionals.

“It’s invaluable,” said Dola Flake, the Diversity and Transitioning Coordinator. “It gives them the connection right away, it gives them the representation right away.”

Flake says that kind of support is crucial for students’ success, as some of them are coming to Missouri State from more diverse areas.

“So, we have to acknowledge some of those cultural needs that come with transition,” she said.

And it’s that deeper level of support and belonging Flake hopes to create by taking Bears L.E.A.D. beyond campus.

“What it does is it helps our students see that they themselves can thrive in the Springfield community,” Flake said. “We want them to build a genuine connection, hopefully, that lasts a really long time.”

Bears LE.A.D. is hosting its first virtual networking event Thursday, April 15. Flake says about 25 community members and 50 students are scheduled to participate.

To find out more and to join future events click here.

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