The support systems that guide and define us are crucial. When I started college as a young, eager African-American man, I got lost in the chaos after only one year. The experience of navigating college with no direction as an 18-year-old was intimidating to say the least. After dropping out to join the workforce, I was laid off as a 27-year-old with only 30 units of college credit.

Unfortunately, this part of my story isn’t quite unique, but the good news is that it’s starting to change. Over the past few years, Bakersfield College has recognized that African-American males are one of the most disproportionately impacted groups within the campus community in terms of academic success rates and persistence through the college matriculation process.

Recent studies have also shown that black male mentoring programs in particular have proved to be among the most successful interventions in terms of helping African-Americans both rise out of poverty and maintain upward mobility over the course of their adult lives.

Julian West’s Community Voices piece ("BC mentoring program helps black students find personal excellence," Feb. 9) recognized that the African-American Mentor Program at BC provides an innovative approach to helping African-Americans reach their academic and career goals. AAMP is all the more significant as a campus resource focused on providing institutional equity for this disproportionately impacted subgroup.

But it starts at the beginning before they’re registered students. The support we offer at the time of enrollment is crucial to defining a successful college student. As a director of outreach and school relations, I’ve seen the benefits of critical support start at the high school level before the student ever steps foot in a college classroom.

To be effective in accomplishing authentic equitable transformation, we must address issues beyond what we see in the classroom. Scholastic results, or lack thereof, are rooted in issues students face outside of the classroom and when we can teach them to see themselves in a successful career, they prove to us they can complete college efficiently and successfully.

First-time African-American students at BC across the last three academic years who complete college-level English and the percentages who complete both college-level English and/or math have continued to rise significantly each year from 4.32 percent during 2014-15 to 13.5 percent in 2015-16.

The African-American enrollment has also doubled in support programs that matter, like Summer Bridge (the college preparedness program) and financial aid assistance. The transfer degree class completion growth and increased from 21 percent to 35 percent and enrollment continues to grow with more than 783 students participating this academic year.

Our students embark on a path of success that doesn’t end with a college degree. They continue to rise up, seeking better employment opportunities, elevating the economic competitiveness within the state.

They are empowered by the power of a supportive educational environment to seek the jobs in the industries that mean the most to them. This work has been recognized by the League for Innovation in Community College, who named Julian West and AAMP as Innovation of the Year 2018 and locally by community partners such as the Kern County Black Chamber of Commerce who awarded Bakersfield College as Corporate Member of the Year of 2018.

The major efforts being made to provide critical guidance and support is proving a successful, well prepared and dedicated workforce for the future of this community. The implications of our leadership can and will make the difference in the future of our world.

Let’s further expand our support systems that guide and define our young people. It’s crucial.

Steve Watkin is the director of outreach and school relations at Bakersfield College. The opinions expressed are his own.

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