Fostering Male Leadership Through SACMEN
After graduating from high school, Andrew Martinez didn't consider going on to college. Instead, like many Latino males, he felt the need to get a job and help support his family. But after three years of working at a Subway sandwich shop and a Domino's Pizza, he realized he didn't want to do that the rest of his life.
"I didn't want to be like some of my co-workers who were in their 30s and were unhappy," said Martinez. "I wanted a better opportunity for myself."
When he was 21, Martinez enrolled at San Antonio College and got a job as a work student in the Student Learning Assistance Center (SLAC). It was there that his boss, SLAC Coordinator Geraldo "Jerry" Guerra, told him of a new program that offered support and mentoring for male students of color at SAC.
Called SACMEN, the program was inspired by Project MALES (Mentoring to Achieve Latino Educational Success) at the University of Texas in Austin. Project MALES researched the questions why male students of color, including Latinos, had low college graduation rates and what could be done to help them.
Three years ago, Mona Aldana-Ramirez, director of Student Success, took up the challenge of addressing these questions and with a seed grant and help from faculty and staff - including Geraldo Guerra - developed SACMEN. The program has been working with students for two years.
The program offers students mentoring opportunities with faculty and staff and leadership training, including trips to conferences at the University of Texas in Austin and at Texas A&M University in College Station. Although SACMEN is geared to men of color, it is inclusive and open to male and female students who are in need of mentoring and leadership development.
"Honestly, the best part of SACMEN is that it's given me opportunities that I would not get in any other program," said Martinez, adding "I get to work with different mentors and it's created a good bond of brotherhood with other guys in the program."
The program has been evolving in its short history with students active in its development. They have added a weekend camping trip to Pedernales State Park, peer to peer mentoring sessions, and a leadership conference for local high school students.
Aldana-Ramirez recalls that after the first cohort of students returned from the conference in Austin, the staff noticed an injection of empowerment in the group. The students in SACMEN wanted to help others who came from similar backgrounds.
They started the Build Your Future conference at SAC to offer support and advice to male students at local high schools. This April, the SACMEN will hold the second annual conference which will bring dozens of high school male students to campus.
One of the SACMEN involved is Anthony Franklin, who has been a member the program for only a month, but who is already looking forward to participating.
"One of the main points I joined was to help others," said Franklin. "I want to try to give back by helping others who are struggling."
Despite some obstacles, including challenges with funding and some students who still leave after a semester or two, SACMEN already seen some success. Several of the students who started the program have transferred and attending universities such as the University of Texas at San Antonio and Texas State University in San Marcos.
Martin Patino, a current student at SAC, was able to meet the Admissions director at Texas A&M University during a conference and has been in contact with him ever since. Patino plans to go to A&M once he graduates from SAC next year.
For Aladana-Ramirez, it has been rewarding to see the students succeed thanks to the support of SACMEN. "To see their professional, personal, and leadership growth is the reason we do this."