CFCC’s mentoring program aims to increase retention and graduation rates among minority male students


By Trista Talton

Posters lining the walls of a large classroom within a building a few blocks from Cape Fear Community College’s downtown Wilmington campus display messages that are practiced as much as they are preached.

“Winners are not people who never fail, but people who never quit,” is one among many phrases greeting students in the college’s Minority Male Mentoring Leadership Initiative Program in the C Building off North 3rd Street.

The program, known as 3M, supports the educational success of minority males, helping them in their pursuit to earn degrees, transfer to four-year universities and enter into professional careers.

For the past three years, 3M has been consistently funded by a North Carolina Community College System grant to the tune of about $25,000, which covers 25 hours a week in paid staff, supplies and trips to four-year universities and professional development conferences.

It’s a shoestring budget for a program where student enrollment has doubled in the past three years, but one 3M coordinator Travis Corpening says those dedicated to the program “make it work.”

Using what you have, making the most of it – such themes are the backbone of the program.

“We don’t allow them to give up on themselves,” Corpening said.

Julia Holmes, a full-time CFCC employee who also volunteers with the program said 3M’s advisors offer guidance on many aspects of the students’ lives.

“We are their life coaches,” she said. “We are their academic coaches. We are their mentors. We’re the cheerleaders. You’ve got a paper you need me to proof? I’ll proof it. We can be brutally frank. I can say to them, ‘That’s the way society thinks. We know that. What are we going to do about it?’ These folks, they try really hard. They have a lot of things going for them, but they also have a lot of things going against them. We’re trying to make a difference just one student at a time.”

Since Corpening became the 3M coordinator three years ago, he’s seen the program’s enrollment grow from 13 to 27 students. Their backgrounds vary – Hispanic, black, Asian, ranging in ages 18 to 43. Some are single. Others are married. Some go to school and work to support their families.

Students are encouraged to utilize their life experiences to teach and help others in the group.

Martez Newkirk was one of those students who found that his role in the program is as crucial to its success as that of the staff and volunteers.

“I joined this past year and I really enjoyed it,” said Newkirk, who plans to transfer to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington to pursue a teaching degree. “It’s just a good brotherhood. Everybody adds something different to the club and it works well.”

Newkirk has been offering math tutoring to students in 3M.

He’s one of three recent CFCC graduates in the program. He earned an Associate in Arts degree in May. Other 3M-active students to recently graduate include David Wilson, a non-traditional student considered a strong role-model in the program, and Olujimi Jumoke, 2013 Student Government President who has been accepted to UNCW.

Overall, Corpening said, it’s been a successful year for 3M. Graduation and transfer rates are on the rise, he said.

He’s optimistic the program, which has been funded off and on with state money throughout the years, will once again receive grant money to continue next year, which began July 1. The state House and Senate are currently negotiating a final state budget in the N.C. General Assembly.

All students who join the program are asked to stay involved, attending monthly meetings and staying in contact with the staff.

Students are offered opportunities to visit four-year universities and attend minority leadership conferences. They’re also given the chance to participate in PUSH, or Pursue and Uplift Study Habits, a campaign where students contribute to the group’s monthly goal to reach 125 study hours.

Students in the program who are lagging academically are given an opportunity to work with academic advisors.

“You have people pushing you,” Newkirk said. “You have people trying to get you into four-year programs. It’s like a family. You can go to your family with any question and get an honest answer. What I’ve learned about myself through this process is I’ve got to keep trying and keep pushing myself. It’s just an uplifting thing to be a part of.”