Michael Dwyer remembers the travails of a college student.
He grew up in Denver and struggled through two years at the Colorado School of Mines before transferring to Metropolitan State University of Denver, where he had to work part time to afford to finish his degree. He earned a master’s degree in Colorado by attending at night and working during the day.
Now, the 63-year-old is a retired Bureau of Land Management executive with a doctorate in environmental science, earned at UNLV. He’s shared some of his story with incoming College of Southern Nevada students who are required to meet with a mentor as part of the state’s Promise Scholarship program.
The college is searching for more than 800 people like Dwyer, who are willing to give back some time and help inspire students to enroll and complete higher education courses. The Promise Scholarship, approved during the 2017 legislative session, is primarily aimed at removing the financial barrier for students to attend community college. The scholarship covers any mandatory tuition and fees left over after students have applied for financial aid and other scholarships.
Students also are required to participate in community service and meet with mentors.
“It’s part of the requirement, but more importantly, what we know in research and practice nationwide is that mentoring is key for the students to succeed,” said Maria Marinch, executive director of inclusive learning and engagement at the College of Southern Nevada. “Students that are mentored tend to have higher success rates, especially for first-generation students that might need a little more guidance and inspiration.”
The need for mentors follows a surge in applicants to the program. More than 12,000 students statewide applied for the scholarship in its first year, the majority of them at CSN. There were 9,386 applications at the college last year, and 10,400 students applied this year before an Oct. 31 deadline. To be eligible, students must complete a federal financial aid form, perform 20 hours of community service and meet with a mentor.
Of the 9,386 applicants for the scholarship at CSN last year, 452 were awarded between $20 and $1,959. At the college, 226 students who applied for the scholarship ended up not needing it because other scholarships and grants covered mandatory tuition and fees.
The law requires a student-to-mentor ratio of no greater than 10-to-1, so Marinch and other CSN officials are hoping for more people like Dwyer and Trish Bradley-Garvin to get involved.
Bradley-Garvin, an independent sales representative for hotel furnishing companies, said a passion for education helped propel her into becoming a mentor.
“If we can get kids into college, no matter how, I’m very much in favor of that, very supportive of that,” she said.
Bradley-Garvin said she likes that the mentoring session doesn’t require a lot on her part, but she was hopeful that it helps some of the students.
“It’s a few hours in the morning to sit with some very eager students who need to fulfill some requirements, and it helps give them the opportunity to go to college,” she said. “It’s such a small investment of the mentor’s time as compared with the results for the student.”
CSN officials are encouraging anyone interested in mentoring to visit their website at csn.edu/promise.