Allyson Drawdy had never really considered the social disparities that some people in the community face until she took a sociology class as a first-year student at Clemson University.
“It allowed me to look at the Clemson community with a different lens,” said Drawdy, a senior biochemistry major.
That insight compelled her to create a tutoring and mentoring program called CU-REACH (Clemson University Reaching for Equitable and Cultural Heights), which pairs Clemson students with elementary and middle schools in the community. To address the disparities Drawdy recognized, which were magnified during the pandemic, CU-REACH participants work with students in the afterschool program at the Littlejohn Community Center. Littlejohn, located less than three miles from the heart of the Clemson campus, supports the communities of Clemson and Central through education, job training, child care and meals.
“I felt like the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the contrast between students on campus versus students living five miles away and going to our local schools and the differences in opportunities and educational levels,” said Drawdy, a former president of the College of Science Student Advisory Board. “It inspired me to try to bridge the gap between Clemson students and these students.”
At about that same time, three members of the College of Science Dean’s Office —Yuki Kihara, Assistant Director of Recruitment and Inclusion Sharetta Bufford, and Science Outreach Center Director Renee Lyons — came across a potential source of funds. A seed grant program from the University’s Office of Global Engagement sought projects that advance understanding of diversity. They successfully applied.
“It’s really a conversation between two groups of people. The idea is that both groups grow. I think our mentors learn as much, if not more, from the kids they tutor as the kids learn from them,” Drawdy said.
CU REACH just completed its third semester. Tutoring was virtual the first two semesters because of the pandemic, but it moved to in-person for the Spring semester. Clemson students, mainly from the College of Science, worked with after-school students at Littlejohn twice a week in any subject in which the students need help. Typically, 15-20 Clemson students served as mentors.
“Science is very hard for many of our students. Having students from the College of Science and other departments mentor our students, I knew it would be a win-win situation,” said Adriane Jackson-Garner, executive director of the Littlejohn Community Center. “Our students can’t wait for Tuesday and Thursday to get here.”
The younger students aren’t the only ones benefitting from the program. Clemson faculty and staff mentor Clemson students taking part in CU-REACH.
“This mentoring program is for our students to get to know and support the community and develop leadership and other professional skills that they need for their future,” Kihara said.
Charles Henry, a senior microbiology major, has participated in CU-REACH since its inception.
“It was important to me to get outside the Clemson University bubble and get into the community,” he said. “I look at it as the city of Clemson has welcomed me into their city. It’s important for me to get involved and give back. I realized there was a need to be met, especially during COVID. Education is important, and I think it’s a great way for us to give back as college students.”
Henry said as one student he worked with got better at math, the student wanted to do more of it instead of playing games.
“He had that confidence he needed to keep going and practicing,” Henry said.
Jackson-Garner said students in her program have improved tremendously academically and in social skills since CU-REACH began.
“The biggest improvement has been in reading. A few have moved up to grade level. That’s a tremendous gain for our kids,” Jackson-Garner said. “Reading is so essential. It’s fundamental to learning, but many students need that one-on-one attention. CU-REACH has allowed our students to sit alone with a mentor and work with them during our tutoring sessions. It’s been great.”
She said that the Clemson student mentors’ commitment makes CU-REACH stand out from other volunteer programs that have helped at Littlejohn.
While the mentors so far have been domestic undergraduate students, Kihara said they’d like to have international and graduate students participate.
“CU-REACH has been very consistent with our students, and that’s what our students need. We don’t receive that from a lot of organizations that want to come out for a platform, but then they stop. CU-REACH has made a difference for students in our community, and the parents are witnesses to that,” she said.
The College of Science pursues excellence in scientific discovery, learning, and engagement that is both locally relevant and globally impactful. The life, physical, and mathematical sciences converge to tackle some of tomorrow’s scientific challenges, and our faculty are preparing the next generation of leading scientists. The College of Science offers high-impact transformational experiences such as research, internships, and study abroad to help prepare our graduates for top industries, graduate programs, and health professions. clemson.edu/science
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