New mentoring program connects refugee youth in Baltimore with opportunities to pursue a college education

A new college access mentoring program for refugees in Baltimore has demonstrated tremendous success in its first year, with all of the graduating seniors in the program accepted into college.

College JUMP (Journey Upward Mentoring Program) started last year through the Baltimore City Community College (BCCC) Refugee Youth Project (RYP) in partnership with The Shriver Center at UMBC. RYP operates a series of programs that work with refugee youth in Baltimore City and County.

Christina Smith ’15, global studies, Sondheim Public Affairs Scholar and Honors College member, serves as the coordinator for the program as UMBC’s Maryland-DC Campus Compact (MDCCC) AmeriCorps VISTA. She says the goal is to work with 11th and 12th grade refugee students to provide a near-peer college access mentoring program.

College JUMP has three areas of focus: college exploration, applying to college, and college preparation. Each refugee student in the program is paired with an undergraduate college student who works closely with them to provide resources and assistance throughout the college application process. College JUMP has a team of four undergraduate students who serve as mentor leaders.

“We want to make sure students start that first day of college feeling prepared for success,” explains Smith.

Francine Mukobwajana graduated from Western High School earlier this year and is starting at UMBC in the fall as a biochemistry major. She participated in the program last year and was mentored by Asma Qaiyumi ’17, biology and psychology.

“UMBC was my first choice,” shares Mukobwajana. “Asma helped me a lot. I moved here in 2014, so everything was new to me, but I really appreciated working with Asma.”

Mukobwajana says Qaiyumi helped her by identifying scholarships, senior year activities, and navigating the college application process. Part of College JUMP also included a campus visit to UMBC.

“A big part of the preparation is seeing a campus and seeing students going to class, events, and leading tours,” says Qaiyumi. “All of that is important for students like Francine to know.”

The origins of College JUMP are traced back to when Jodi Kelber-Kaye, associate director of the Honors College, received a BreakingGround grant to partner with community organizations for her race, poverty, and gender in Baltimore seminar. In 2013, her class worked with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to create a proposal for encouraging refugee families to remain residents of Baltimore City past their initial resettlement period. After the director of the IRC asked about creating a college mentoring program for refugee youth, her 2014 seminar students partnered with Brittany DeNovellis at RYP to design such a program.

Eloise Grose, Shriver Center program coordinator for service-learning, partnered with Kelber-Kaye and others on campus to get the College JUMP funded and started through a MDCCC AmeriCorps VISTA grant.

DeNovellis, RYP volunteer specialist, was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the project and worked closely with Grose to create the grant proposal to receive funding and also serves as a co-supervisor for the program. Kursten Pickup, RYP coordinator, also assisted in the grant writing process.

Three years later, College JUMP was a tremendous success in its first year and has provided opportunities for refugees to continue their education and remain in the Baltimore region.

“If you think about what a refugee family endures, they leave their home country for reasons that are traumatizing for them, and are eventually relocated to the U.S.,” says Kelber-Kaye. “So it’s important for UMBC students to provide welcoming and supportive environments for refugee youth and families as they navigate this complicated aspect of US culture.”

Building off of incredible results this year including a 100 percent college acceptance rate and FAFSA completion rate, Christina Smith says there are plans to expand the number of students served and add more activities to the program for next year. Thirteen students completed a full year of programming, and an additional 31 students attended events and workshops focused on college access.

“UMBC values diversity among students and open mindedness and acceptance of a wide range of cultures and backgrounds,” says Smith. “The refugee community in Baltimore can be such an asset not just to the university but to the city and the state of Maryland.”

Any UMBC student who is interested in serving as a mentor for the program should contact Christina Smith at csmith24@umbc.edu.

For more information about service-learning at UMBC, contact The Shriver Center.

For more information about the Refugee Youth Project, visit www.refugeeyouthproject.org.

Image: Photo by Brittany DeNovellis. A group of mentors, students, and a Chesapeake Hall resident pose at the College JUMP kickoff event.