Umoja Counseling

April 27th, 2021 - 7:59am

Our next In-depth look into the services College of Marin’s (COM) Umoja program provides students is about the role of academic counseling. It is a part of our year-long series on COM Umoja.

Find our first story here

Join us in 2021 to explore how COM’s Umoja program empowers students, promotes unity, and builds community and equity.

Umoja Counseling

One of the cornerstones of an educational learning community is having dedicated academic counselors. COM’s Umoja learning community program has two counselors committed to assisting Umoja students, Rinetta Early, who is also COM’s Extended Opportunity Programs and Services (EOPS) counselor and a founder of COM’s Umoja program, and Troy Stevenson, who also counsels COM athletes.

College academic counselors, in general, have many areas they cover with their students. First and foremost, they talk with students individually about what their goals are for college and then create a pathway to help them meet those goals successfully. If a student isn’t sure what academic area they want to study, counselors talk with them about how they can match up their skills and life goals with different options. 

And this is just the beginning. Because counselors are listening to a student’s life goals, counselors find out about a student’s history and can recommend different types of financial aid, scholarships, and support services students can be apart of to help them succeed. They give advice, recommend different support services, and guide students through college. Counselors discuss transferring to universities, how to change a major, how many classes to take, mental health issues and stresses, and so much more. And just like mental health counseling, academic counseling can be very personal. 

When this is brought into a learning community like Umoja, it offers even more specialized support for students. Students have a mentor who looks like them and has a deeper understanding of their histories. Students may be the first in their family to attend college and not have anywhere else to turn to help them navigate the academic system. Having guaranteed Umoja counselors who can recommend programs and opportunities that best fit their needs and goals become a trusted source in helping them during a time when so many decisions need to be made. 

Dawud Anderson-ZafirDawud Anderson-Zafir is a COM Umoja student and father of two who decided to go to back to college to complete some media courses to start his own company. When he first went to the counseling office, he met with a couple different counselors and didn’t feel he was connecting with them. He noticed every time he went, he would see a line of young Black men waiting to see Troy Stevenson. Once he found out who they were waiting for, he made an appointment with Troy.  

“It turns out he was an Umoja counselor,” remembers Anderson-Zafir. “We hit it off. He was the first counselor who definitely showed interest. His first comment was, ‘what do we need to do to get you to university?’ After I told him my goal, he said, ‘oh, okay, that’s a total 180. Let’s sit down and I want you to talk about exactly what you want to do and how I can help you fit into that.’ That was a big bonus that made me want to be a part of the Umoja program.”

These established relationships help guide students through their educational goals where counselors become trusted partners. Umoja Counselor Troy Stevenson sees his job as finding out what students want from college.

“I think my strength is I get to meet with them in counseling and have this conversation to ask them what their goals are as a new or continuing student,” says Stevenson. “For example, if a student is interested in becoming a nurse, I can let them know HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) nursing programs aren’t impacted like they are in California, and they should look into transferring back east for a couple of years to get their degree.”

These relationships strengthen over time because of the many adjustments that need to be made during the course of a student pursing their goals. There might be a class a student couldn’t get into, a change in what they wanted to pursue, a situation where they needed to make a decision where they just needed advice. Often the first person students turn to is their counselor.

COM Umoja student D’Vonne Rosas affirms that. “We have counselors who are attached to Umoja that people get to talk with to see if they are on the right track,” states Rosas. “Like me, I had a bunch of appointments because I wanted to change my major, so I talked with Rinetta about it many, many times. She said, ‘I always feel like I’m talking with you,’ and I said, ‘that’s because we had a meeting two days ago and we have another one tomorrow!’”

Stevenson acknowledges frequent appointments are often necessary. “Earlier I was meeting with an Umoja student,” Stevenson recalls, “and now he’s applying. He is realizing it’s a whole new ball game. When we went over everything, there were little things we had to change. One of the things was that we weren’t going to be able to talk about all of this in 30 minutes and needed to make a follow-up appointment.”

Having someone who is dedicated to helping you succeed boosts self-confidence, increases self-advocacy, and motivates students to persist through their educational goals. 

COM Umoja alumna Topaz Wells acknowledges just how true this was for her having Umoja Counselor Rinetta Early as her counselor. “If I didn’t have Rinetta, I don't think I would have done this,” states Wells. “She motivates you. When I was in high school, I wasn't motivated to do anything. But being in college, it was so nice to have someone to communicate with who was my advocate, my counselor, and also a friend. She really helped me succeed.”

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