Mike Horan | Special to The Michigan Catholic
DETROIT — When Delvonta’ Pinkston’s high school senior year at Northwestern High School in Detroit was approaching, he didn’t know if he was going to be able to attend college. Not because of finances or that he wouldn’t fit in, but because only one person in his family had ever graduated college. His sister and mother went to college, but dropped out or were expelled.
Doubt was setting in.
Then he met the founder of Madonna University’s Bridging Lost Gaps (BLG) program, Bryant George, who laid out a plan for him to prosper.
“For the first time, I actually felt like I could really succeed,” Pinkston said. “I had heard college proposals before and even after, but they never sounded as good. They all felt like, ‘We’re going to get you to the school and that’s it.’ The Bridging Lost Gaps program, I felt like there was actually a plan for me after I got to the school.
“They weren’t looking for me to be a number or a source of income for the school,” Pinkston continued. “I don’t think I would be where I am right now if it wasn’t for (Bridging Lost Gaps).”
The Bridging Lost Gaps program was created six years ago to give African-American and minority students at Madonna University access to academic and social community support networks, career development opportunities, mentoring from peers and professionals, financial aid resources and a sense of belonging.
The program was formed after the school received a $2 million Title III grant through the federal Strengthening Institutions program to focus on student retention rates, particularly young African-American men, while also sticking to Franciscan values, according to Connie Tingson-Gatusz, Ph.D., vice president for student affairs and mission integration at Madonna.
“At the time, our retention rates were very low, much like the national averages for young black males in college, so we wanted to focus heavily on creating a support program for those students,” Tingson-Gatusz said.
The program saw just five students its first year, but since has grown to 63 students across all grade levels at Madonna.
Jordan Brett, the program’s current director, said he’s working to grow the program each year.
“This month, we’re focusing on résumés and getting everyone on LinkedIn to get the guys to network with a purpose instead of twiddling their fingers on Facebook,” Brett said. “We also do a lot of leadership training, from time management to creating goals to vision boards. You name it, we pretty much do it.”
Bridging Lost Gaps members meet on the second and fourth Friday of every month, with freshmen meeting additionally on the first and third Fridays to discuss everything from academics to community work to culture. Freshmen also benefit from mentoring from their upper-classmen peers, which Brett says is crucial to their development.
“The upper-classmen are watching out for them, eating lunch with them, checking in with them,” Brett said. “In the past, the program tried connecting students to adults, and sometimes it doesn’t work because there isn’t a real click, but when you connect juniors and seniors who are, say, business majors with freshmen who are interested in business, that relationship and that bond is much better.”
The program has seen retention rates rise, but more importantly, substantial growth in its students.
“We graduated our first class of BLG students two years ago, and really (we’ve seen) just tremendous growth in the areas of greater responsibility beyond themselves, and commitment to service to the larger community,” Tingson-Gatusz said.
While the program began by focusing on African-Americans and the city of Detroit, it has since branched out to include other school systems and minority groups.
“The challenges are not only seen in the city of Detroit, so expanding those boundaries really adds a greater dynamic,” Brett said.
Pinkston, who will graduate this December with a degree in communications, is working on two books and hopes to earn his master’s degree in creative writing. While he still believes he would have gone to college without the Bridging Lost Gaps program, he isn’t sure how prepared he would have been for life afterward.
“I would have less direction in my life if I didn’t have access to mentors,” Pinkston said. “I have so many people I can use as resources and guides that I didn’t see anywhere else. I would’ve been in college, (but) I may have dropped out or I may have graduated, I don’t know. I just would have significantly less direction in my life.”
Bridging Lost Gaps
For more information on the Bridging Lost Gaps program at Madonna University, visit https://www.madonna.edu/resources/bridging-lost-gaps.