Umoja, unity in practice

Umoja means unity in Kiswahili.

Umoja is also the name of a new program that will be offered on campus beginning this summer and will focus on black students’ development.

Adjunct counselor Melody Smith said that the Umoja community is a statewide initiative that has been around for 10 years and is based similarly to other 30-year-old programs.

According to Smith, El Camino College has had Project Success, an older program, on their campus. The whole state initiative is based on programs similar to these that have been successful.

Dean of Student Success Kalynda Mclean said that the process of bringing this program to Pierce was challenging, but very rewarding.  

According to Mclean, the lead for this effort, began the process with the Student Equity Task Force, who identified a few different equity efforts that they wanted to pursue as a college.

“It is a bit of challenge just because it is a statewide program, and we are adopting it to a statewide network of programs, in addition to launching a brand new program here at the college,” Mclean said.   

When Smith obtained her degree from graduate school, she did not know about these programs, but she said she was immediately amazed.

“When I learned about that, I became so excited about it,” Smith said. “In your normal history class you do study a little about African American history, but not too much. With this program, you can really go into it, and students will be able to learn more about their history and really get a sense of pride.”

Smith said she loves being a counselor for Umoja and is ready to help black students realize their dreams.

“I’m really excited to have the students build the different skill sets that are necessary to be successful in college, but they are also learning about themselves and making those connections,” Smith said. “Sometimes, it is really about creating a sense of community for not just the students, but the faculty involved, the counselors involved and for everyone involved.”

According to Smith, the goal for the program is to help students transfer, obtain an associate’s degree by providing the necessary support whether it’s financial, social or educational.  

“The end goal is to really give them the tools to be educationally successful to accomplish whatever their goal is,” Smith said.

Chairman of the History, Philosophy and Sociology (HiPS) Department James McKeever, who will be teaching Sociology 11 as one of the learning community courses, said that Umoja is an amazing program.

McKeever was involved with the pre-Umoja program when he as was an adjunct at Los Angeles Valley College.

“I think we do need to address the graduation rates of African American and Latino students because they are the lowest graduation rates,” McKeever said.  “I think this is the program that will really help do that.”