First-year mentor and Senior Paris Barnes poses for a flick with her mentees James Carrington, Kayla Mero, Karina McMillian, Fernando Cabrera, and Andrew Hund. Photo courtesy of Andrea Age.

Studies show first-generation students are less likely than their peers to graduate in four years or to graduate at all. The Student Advising for Freshman Excellence (SAFE) program is doing its part to close that gap. SAFE is a peer mentoring program designed to help students successfully transition from high school to college.

“Peer mentoring works when you do it right,” said SAFE Program Director Jarrell Anderson. “We have a profound belief in the power of mentoring. It’s something that has been invaluable to the experiences of hundreds of students on this campus and has launched their leadership journey into other places. The E in excellence is not taken lightly.”

Since beginning his tenure at UNC Charlotte back in 2014, Anderson has seen the program grow tremendously.

“We’ve been able to offer more services to students now than at any other point in the program’s history,” said Anderson. “We have 257 students that we serve, which is unheard of for this program. Before I got here it teetered between 70 and 80 students. My first year we went to 125, my second 158 and then now we’re at 257. We have also pushed the student grade point average from a 2.8 to a 3.2 in just a short time.”

SAFE meets its three aims, mentoring, academic support, and social networking, through a variety of mediums.

Mentoring – SAFE Counselors provide ongoing support for students dealing with academic, personal and social issues.

Academic Support – SAFE has a lasting partnership with the Office of Multicultural Academic Services who provide personal tutoring services that are free of charge for all program participants.

Social Networking – Students participate in monthly SAFE socials, multicultural events and bimonthly community service projects.

SAFE standout and mentee Jada Dove has benefited from the unique support system of upperclassmen.

“Since my mentor pushes me to do my best every day, I have grown in my confidence in the classroom, getting out of my comfort zone and networking through the program by going to the events. I continue to grow everyday with the help of the SAFE program which has become like a family for me. It motivates me every day.”

Freshman mentee Jamar Poston acknowledges the fact that SAFE is rooting him on from the sidelines.

“Being able to have a mentor helps a lot because I can ask them anything and they will answer it to their best ability. As a mentee, I feel like all the mentors believe in me and want me to succeed. Not to mention the fact that I basically met all my friends during SAFE and continue to make new ones.”

The SAFE staff is comprised of one graduate student, four student coordinators and 36 counselors.

“So not only are we able to reach more first-year students, but it also creates more leadership opportunities for aspiring mentors,” said Anderson. “The more students that we get, means the more mentors that we need. It’s not only about the first year experience, it’s also about those subsequent years in the leadership experience of those students because they are allotted more opportunities to lead first year students, molding themselves into better leaders.

Senior Amaya Pressley, a first-time counselor, learned a lot about herself and her mentees last semester and plans to do the same this year.

To be given the opportunity to help someone not make the mistakes I’ve made in the past has been very humbling and rewarding,” said Pressley. “Whenever I get to sit down with a mentee and they tell me about how I helped them in a class, or in life with advice or how me just listening to them means something to them is the best feeling ever. SAFE is a great program for incoming students and if given the opportunity, each student should take advantage.”

Mentoring matters.