Carolyn Colvin was first drawn to the West Liberty area in the early 1990s after observing community members’ interactions with new immigrant families. With an established research interest in adult literacy, Colvin soon began reaching out to immigrants in the Iowa town of West Liberty, helping them learn English and adapt to life as U.S. citizens.
Colvin, a University of Iowa associate professor of teaching and learning in the College of Education, launched a formal adult literacy program in West Liberty in 1993. Since then, she has expanded the program beyond traditional literacy instruction to include information about day-to-day experiences of American life, financial literacy, and fulfilling one’s desire to become a naturalized citizen.
Throughout the process, the community and local school system have provided key support for Colvin and the adult students in her program. In addition, UI students from the College of Education gain teaching experience in the program through one-one interactions with immigrant students.
Colvin has also partnered with Gabriela Rivera, multicultural coordinator at the UI’s Office of Diversity and Enrichment. Together, they developed a mentoring program to support undergraduate students from West Liberty, most of whom are recipients of the Advantage Iowa Scholarship. The West Liberty mentoring program was established in 2007, with support from the Provost’s Office. One of the first students to enter the program graduated with a degree from Iowa in spring 2011. Currently, over 20 students are involved in the program.
According to Colvin, three major components contribute to the success of this unique mentoring program and the UI: a strong collaboration with the West Liberty High School faculty and administration; guidance from the older students in the program; and the information students’ parents receive about what their children are experiencing in this new environment.
“I think we’ve created a trust with many of the parents,” Colvin said. “So even though they aren’t familiar with the process of going to college, there’s a level of trust established. They know us and so they trust that their children will be well taken care of.”
For these students – as for any college freshman -- attending college is an exhilarating yet intimidating experience. To help students learn to live with increased independence as well as additional responsibilities, Colvin and Rivera teach students basic but crucial skills, such as maintaining good grades and taking care of financial responsibilities.
Colvin, who received the Graduate College’s 2010 Outstanding Mentor Award, savors time spent helping students succeed.
“There is this enormous sense of satisfaction helping students,” Colvin said. “It’s rewarding when mentoring takes hold and students discover their passion for a specific area of study. Often mentoring is such an invisible aspect of a faculty member’s work on campus and it is what I, along with many others, truly enjoy.”