MAP Mentors Buffer Effects of Freshmen's 'Culture Shock' Leslie Rice ----------------------------------- Homewood News and Information Growing up in upstate New York, there was never a time when Hopkins sophomore Adriana Izquierdo ignored her Mexican roots. At home her family spoke Spanish and found pride in honoring the traditions of their past. For Izquierdo, her heritage is a joyful thing; and the music, art, food and language of Mexico have perpetually been wrapped around her like a warm blanket. So when she entered Hopkins last year, Izquierdo wasn't prepared for the isolation she would experience or how she would ache for home. "I missed being able to speak Spanish, and I felt like there was no one here who could relate with my past," she recalled. "It was a lonely time. Eventually I got involved with cultural groups here like OlE (OrganizaciĦon Latina Estudiantil) and I began to make friends. Now I do things like drag people, Latin American or not, out to Mexican restaurants." But those lonely first days at Hopkins are not forgotten. They are what drives Izquierdo's determination that this year's minority freshmen will not experience the type of alienation she felt as a freshman. Izquierdo is one of 30 minority Hopkins students who volunteer in the new Mentoring Assistance Peer Program through the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. Each MAP volunteer works with five minority freshmen, giving them advice, guidance and unconditional support during their first year at Hopkins. Only two months old, MAP is still finding its way as it tries to address the emerging needs of the freshman students. Now that the academic year is in full swing, peer counselors and freshmen alike have found the biggest obstacle to the program's success is scheduling conflicts. And some peer counselors have found a few freshmen plunging all their energies into academics at the expense of pursuing friendships and getting involved in campus life. The peer counselors try to gently nudge freshmen into directing some of their energies into co-curricular activities. "How to juggle academics seems to be the focus of a lot of our conversations lately," said Hopkins senior and peer counselor Yvette Burke, who is Puerto Rican American. Burke offers her freshmen suggestions on time management as well as practical advice on what to expect from different faculty members and courses. She often finds herself throwing ad hoc study sessions and resurrecting her old study notes to lend to her mentees. And during midterms, she'll send notes of encouragement and small care packages to frazzled freshmen. "It's a nice feeling to help someone else find their way around here," she said. "No one helped me. I would have loved to have the counsel of an older, more experienced student who also knew what it was like to be a minority in a predominantly white campus. I don't think I met one other person who was Puerto Rican American until this year." Ralph Johnson, director of the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, said Burke echoes a sentiment held by most of the students who signed on to volunteer. "They all want to be there for these freshmen in a way they wished someone had been there for them," he explained. Volunteers went through a tough selection process--some 60 students applied--and are required to attend biweekly peer counselor meetings, contact each student once a week and plan events with them. Periodically, MAP volunteers and their freshmen get together in groups. Last week a few mentors and their "MAPees" gathered in a volunteer's apartment for ice cream and a movie, and another peer counselor organized a Sunday afternoon study-a-thon, offering free tutoring, pizza and study breaks. "I love it when a group of MAP volunteers and their freshmen get together for socials and things," Izquierdo said. "We all talk about our traditions, and everyone is interested in learning about each other's heritages. And we've found that all of us may come from completely different cultures but we share a lot of the same issues." Johnson created MAP based on a similar peer counseling program he started as director of minority student affairs at the University of South Carolina. With MAP he hopes to improve the minority retention rate at Hopkins and improve the overall quality of life for minority students. "Coming to Hopkins can be a culture shock for any freshman student, and that shock is often exacerbated for minority students," Johnson said. "The issues minority students face can best be discussed with someone who's been there. I think the idea of peer counseling is pretty universal; utilizing students to help other students usually works." The average graduation rate of African Americans and Hispanics in four-year universities nationwide is roughly half that of their white and Asian American counterparts, said Bob Massa, dean of enrollment management. At Hopkins, however, the difference in retention rates is only a few percentage points between African American and Hispanics and their white and Asian American counterparts. Nonetheless, Massa said, Hopkins would like to see no difference in graduation rates between races and cultures at all. Although it's too soon to gauge how successful the MAP program will be in increasing the minority retention rate, anecdotal evidence strongly suggests it is working, Johnson said. "I consider myself lucky. My older sister is a senior here so I felt pretty comfortable from the beginning," said freshman Vanessa Laquinte, who is Haitian American and one of Izquierdo's MAPees. "But aside from my sister, I didn't really know anyone at Hopkins. I've met so many people through the MAP program and the Office of Multicultural Student Affairs. And Adriana is so nice. We have lunch together every now and then and talk. She's the kind of person that would put everything that she was doing away and talk to me if I needed her."
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