Becoming a Leader
Efrain Alvarado is a senior at IUPUI with a double major in journalism with a concentration in public relations and communications studies. He has been a part of DEAP from very early on and was one of the first members to become a peer mentor, a leadership role he held for two years. Alvarado says the value of the program was evident from the beginning of his freshman year when he first came to campus from Hammond, Indiana, and participated in DEAP’s Summer Bridge sector.
Alvarado says, “Many students of color are first generation. We don’t have family members who know about the process of going to college. DEAP helps make up for that by giving us a support system that can answer our questions and concerns. You learn about scholarships, budgeting, time management and if the staff isn’t able to answer your question, they are always eager to connect you with someone who can.”
Alvarado also stresses the benefit of connecting with fellow members of the diverse DEAP community, which fosters education and acceptance of other differing cultures. He says, “You have real conversations with people of different opinions, ideologies, and backgrounds. I’ve had the opportunity to connect with people when at first it seemed we had nothing in common. It’s a unique environment that’s taught me how to interact with people who are different from myself, whether it is cultural or even little personality differences. Because of DEAP, I have the communication skills to hold a well-meaning, respectful conversation with anyone I meet.”
Gaining skills like those has helped Alvarado develop greater confidence and become a leader, both academically and socially. He spent a year as the president of DEAP’s honor society, Chi Alpha Epsilon, and is now on track to attend law school in the fall of 2018. As he puts it, “Not all of us have a supportive family back home, but having people on campus who are cheering for you, it means a lot. We all come from different walks of life but we have the same support system with DEAP. It has definitely become my family on this campus.”
Gaining Confidence Through Involvement
La’Cia Reynolds is a senior at IUPUI who is originally from Gary, Indiana, and is pursuing a degree in health service management. She became involved in DEAP as an incoming freshman when she was offered a scholarship and an opportunity to participate in the Summer Bridge program. She felt honored to be one of the few chosen for a spot. “I felt like I had stood out, which was a great feeling,” she says. She has remained active within DEAP throughout her college career, involvement that she credits with introducing her to other organizations and people on the IUPUI campus.
Reynolds says, “Being involved with DEAP definitely helped me feel connected here. It opened my eyes to other organizations, like the Student African American Sisterhood, and even sorority life. I’m a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, which I wouldn’t have learned about without being in DEAP. The sense of community we have in this program helped me open up and not be so nervous to approach new people.”
Reynolds currently works as a program specialist for DEAP and plans to use her professional experience from that position to help with her career goals. After attending graduate school and obtaining a master’s degree in health care administration, she would like to hold an administrative position at a hospital. Having already been working under a director with tight deadlines and as part of a hiring committee for DEAP, she feels prepared for the professional world outside of IUPUI.
Reynolds explains, “Overall, I would say that I wouldn’t be the student I am today without DEAP. I never thought that I was the type of person to be engaged with their campus or to take on leadership roles. Now, I’m someone who is confident talking to new people and being a leader, and I can thank the opportunities that DEAP has given me for that.”
Learning to Believe in Herself
TaBria Cowan is a sophomore from Michigan City, Indiana, who came to IUPUI to pursue a degree in elementary education. Like many other DEAP members, she got involved with the program during Summer Bridge at the start of her freshman year. Those two weeks before her first semester began were critical because she became more comfortable navigating the campus and understanding the expectations of being an university student. Becoming an university student was difficult for her since it meant enduring many changes from the life she was used to back home in Michigan City.
Cowan says, “I had trouble adjusting to college. It was a big change for me, and at one point I seriously considered going back home. I was at a strange school where I didn’t yet have any friends, and I was living somewhere new. My family was three hours away. It was a lot to handle all at once, and I didn’t think I could do it. The DEAP staff talked me through it and helped me see my own potential. They convinced me to stay, and in doing so, they taught me to believe in myself.”
Cowan now has a sense of belonging at IUPUI, aided by her leadership role within DEAP and involvement with two organizations the program supports: Student African American Sisterhood and Chi Alpha Epsilon honor society. She is a peer mentor for other DEAP members and is proud that she has been able to help others with similar experiences.
Cowan says, “I see so much of myself in the freshmen I mentor, and I’m always so happy whenever I am able to help them. Some of them are going through the exact same things I went through during my first year. Recently, one of my mentees was thinking about dropping out, a struggle which I understood very well. I was able to pass along the advice that was given to me. Providing support for anyone who feels that way is important, and I’m glad I was able to be there for them and convince them to stay.”
Being a leader who knows how to listen and how to advise others is an especially important skill set for Cowan, who plans to become a teacher after graduation. She wants to teach fourth grade and eventually become a principal, an ambitious plan that she now feels confident about.
“I’ve grown so much in my first two years at IUPUI, and I can’t wait to see what comes next. I feel like DEAP is just another part of my family now, and I know that whatever happens I’ll always have the people in the program to help support me,” says Cowan.
Learning How to Be Successful
Vonna Murdock is a senior at IUPUI and is graduating this May with a degree in exercise science. She joined DEAP when she was new to campus four years ago. Since then, she has held a plethora of leadership positions, opportunities that she was able to take advantage of due to her involvement with DEAP.
“Several of the experiences that are now on my resume I learned about through DEAP. I don’t think I would be able to say that I was an OTEAM member or health and wellness mentor if I hadn’t joined the program,” says Murdock. Preparation for those kinds of roles was also something she took advantage of regularly. She explains, “Having a peer mentor helped me learn how to be successful, and it also helped me stay on track with my goals.”
Murdock says that DEAP’s mentor program had a huge impact on her, so much that she became one herself. “I touched so many students’ lives as a peer mentor, and it was one of the first leadership positions I had on campus that made me feel important. It was a great feeling to think that I was making an impact and helping fellow students,” she says.
Outside of the professional benefits of DEAP, one of Murdock’s favorite things about being a member is the sensation of having a campus family to support her. She says, “I’ve endured different struggles while attending college, but I was never alone because of the family I found in DEAP. They’ve helped me up in situations where I felt lost, from losing a close relative to becoming a mother during my senior year.”
Combining that support with the professional skills she’s gained in the program, Murdock feels prepared for her next steps after graduating this May, which include working as an arrhythmia technician at Riley Children’s Hospital and attending graduate school to obtain a doctoral degree in physical therapy.
Murdock explains, “It’s been a difficult journey, but students and staff of DEAP have kept believing in me through it all. Because of that, I’ve learned how to believe in myself.”