Program at local university to help students of color is showing success

INDIANA, Pa. — A program started at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania to help keep students of color, is showing success. It’s called the Crimson Scholars Program and it is now in its second year.

Briauna Booker is a sophomore at IUP. She’s now mentoring incoming freshmen in the Crimson Scholar Circle. She was in the program’s inaugural class last year.

“IUP is a predominantly white institution. We don’t see a lot of people who look like me walking around campus every day,” Booker said. “To be a part of a group that looks like me, it’s a great feeling.”

Channel 11 first reported on the Crimson Scholars Program, when it started in 2021. An anonymous donor funded the program to help Black and brown students navigate just about every aspect of college life, and feel represented.

Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs Malaika Turner helps oversee the program. It provides mentors, resources, support, and a $1,000 scholarship to students. Freshmen are able to come to campus a few weeks early to feel more comfortable in their new home.

“To see the kind of work we do now for Black and brown students, it’s refreshing,” Turner said.

Booker said the program gave her so much more, including help with financial aid and a connection to mental health professionals on campus, should she need them.

“The Crimson Circle helped me navigate around campus, helped me with how to email my professors, how to do different assignments,” Booker said. “They helped me figure out what major I wanted to be a part of and how to switch my major, and how to order my books. They also helped me with good study tips and habits.”

Turner told Channel 11 this foundation can be the factor that determines if minority students complete their college degree.

“I think it’s crucial to take the time to get to know the students. That’s what this program offers. The ability to get to know them one on one. To text them, to call them, to have that open relationship with them, so they know we’re there for them. It’s critical for their growth,” Turner said.

The statistics show that in its first year, the Crimson Scholar Circle helped keep 60% of Black and brown students enrolled in the school. That’s compared to a 47% retention rate for a control group of a similar makeup of students not enrolled in the program.

Turner said the university is already working on creating its next class, so that everyone in the program has the best chance of succeeding.

“To be a part of something like this — it breathes new life into the university and into this population of students,” Turner said.

For Booker, it’s also about lifting up the next class of students to be leaders in their class and on campus, and to one day become leaders in their communities.

“Being a mentor is special to me because they gave to me and I get a chance to give back,” Booker said. “It’s a system of love, of guidance, family, support. That’s something that everyone doesn’t have. To be a part of that is an honor.”

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