Posted April 3, 2023 — An effort to support undergraduates faced with the challenges of the pandemic and online learning has grown into something more: a thriving multicultural mentoring program that offers benefits to both the mentees and the doctoral students who serve as mentors.
The Multicultural Success Initiative entered its third year with 51 undergraduate and doctoral students from colleges across the University of Houston, providing mentoring tailored to each undergraduate’s individual needs, from academic and career counseling to social support.
The initiative, part of the Asian American Studies Center in the UH College of Education, was started in 2020 with a focus on Asian American students, in part to address increased reports of stress, discrimination and racism against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders exacerbated by the pandemic.
“We wanted to do something to support our Asian American students because the Asian American community experienced serious verbal and even physical anti-Asian discrimination and violence, particularly in the first year of the pandemic,” said Yali Zou, University Endowed Professor for Global Leadership Studies and director of the UH Asian American Studies Center.
The focus expanded to serve students from all racial and ethnic backgrounds.
“One of the unexpected findings from the first year was the universality of the undergraduate student needs,” said Amy Murdock, program manager for the initiative. “While those needs vary in nature, there seems to be a void that this program fills for the mentees — and the mentors, as well — be it academic or social.”
Mentees and mentors also receive scholarships to participate thanks to a grant from the UH Office of the Provost.
Participants meet at least one hour a week, either in person or virtually, although many go beyond that. Many of the mentor-mentee partnerships from last academic year continued into the fall 2022 semester.
That was good news to participants. “I am so happy to be in the program again,” said undergraduate health major Paul Choi.
The mentors benefit as well. For many, the initiative is a chance to share things they wish they had known during their undergraduate years. But that’s not the only perk.
Leslie Ukanda, a College of Education doctoral student specializing in literacy education, said she has learned to be a better leader. Most important, she said, “I have learned how to listen and ask questions, rather than assume what someone needs from me.”
To date, the program has served 145 students representing diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds and majors from across the University. Zou, who is also a professor of educational leadership and policy studies, said research has shown that the peer mentorship model can effectively promote student success. “The program has transformed students’ educational experiences and encouraged them to confidently face their academic endeavors,” Zou said.
Murdock, who served as a program mentor while earning her Ph.D. in the College of Education, said the program is a perfect fit for UH and for Houston.
“Our mentors and mentees truly represent the best of not only UH, but Houston, a university and a city which embrace people of all ethnicities, cultures and religions,” she said. “Our mentors and mentees represent a spectrum of cultural backgrounds. They also represent the potential for positive change.”
—Written by Jeannie Kever