Fostering future success

Access and Leadership Development helps make college accessible to students from historically underserved and underrepresented backgrounds.

2020 Emerging Leaders intern Nia Neville, left, works with former state Rep. Tommie Pierson, Jr. (D-St. Louis) on revisions to a legislative bill at the state capitol in Jefferson City in March 2020.
2020 Emerging Leaders intern Nia Neville, left, works with former state Rep. Tommie Pierson, Jr. (D-St. Louis) on revisions to a legislative bill at the state capitol in Jefferson City in March 2020. Courtesy photo.

By Jesse Berlin 

This is Part 2 of a two-part story. Read Part 1 here. 

 As part of MU’s Division of Inclusion, Diversity & Equity (IDE), the Office of Access and Leadership Development (ALD) helps close the opportunity gap for students from backgrounds historically underserved and underrepresented in higher education. 

ALD hosts several initiatives that serve students from kindergarten into graduate school, exposing them to new opportunities to foster their future success. 

Some initiatives are reserved for undergrads, such as the McNair Scholars Program and its predecessor the Discover Program, Missouri Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (MoLSAMP) and Women of Color, Honor & Ambition (WOCHA). Another initiative, Graduate Scholars of Excellence (GSE), is reserved for graduate students. Read more about these initiatives here. 

However, ALD also supports students who aren’t in college yet. Jennifer Brown is ALD’s associate director of K-12 Access Programming & Outreach Initiatives, meaning she oversees initiatives for elementary school, high school and incoming first-year college students.  

For elementary school students, there’s STEM Cubs, a free half-day camp for kindergarteners through fifth graders, particularly those, Brown says, “from underrepresented and low-income backgrounds.” This program emphasizes the importance of exploratory and experiential learning by involving students in hands-on STEM activities. It’s typically held each fall, spring and summer, in collaboration with the MU colleges of engineering and education. 

Making college accessible

For high school students, there’s the Emerging Leaders Program, a four-day conference open to students in grades 10 through 12 across Missouri. The program fosters civic engagement and gets students involved in the state legislative process. Co-sponsored by the Missouri Legislative Black Caucus Foundation, students learn about the legislative process and then put it into practice with mock committee hearings and a floor session. 

“We spend a day talking about college preparation” and help students access tools and resources to “make college accessible and available to them,” Brown says. 

Brown also oversees the high school versions of WOCHA and Men of Color, Honor & Ambition (MOCHA), which help students develop professional leadership skills. IDE currently partners with Kansas City, Jefferson City and Columbia public schools to support the WOCHA and MOCHA programs in their districts.  

“We support their programs through the cultivation of a central mission and goals to foster academic, professional, and personal growth for the participating students, as well as maintaining a connection to our campus,” Brown says. 

For first-year students, particularly underrepresented students, there’s the Mizzou Inclusive Early Start Program (MIESP), a collaboration supported by the College of Education, School of Health Professions and Center for Academic Success & Excellence (CASE).  

MIESP began with CASE student service coordinator Karen Hayes; Joel Stancer, then a retention coordinator for the College of Education; and Tommy Thomas III, diversity initiatives coordinator in the School of Health Professions.  

MIESP helps students learn about different resources at MU, so they feel better prepared and can be successful when they arrive. The program covers such topics as “wellness, spaces on campus, involvement, faculty interactions, finances, and resilience” — areas where, Brown says, “it would really benefit students to come with knowledge and familiarity.” 

Personal motivation

Through all the initiatives, the members of ALD find something to keep them going. 

For Davis, it’s the students who continue to keep her and the team energized and motivated to serve in this capacity. 

Brown, who majored in engineering, utilizes her engineering skills for students. She views the K–20 pipeline as a pathway, and her portion of the pipeline does its part to “open access to the entire system.” 

Downer says it’s the light that goes on when students find out what’s possible and what they’re capable of that reminds her “why I do this.” 

McAboy-Young believes in leaving “a space better than you found it” and does what she does as “an extension of my faith.” 

“Someone else’s destiny is tied to the work that I do every day, and if I don’t show up and do my work at 110 percent, then someone else’s future is at stake,” McAboy-Young says. 

When she’s able to help someone, McAboy-Young says, that person can then pass that support onto others.