Project CHESS’s mentorship gives younger students ‘a leg up that isn’t provided for them’

Kastenny Flores, Reportera

The Collaborative for Hispanics in Higher Education and Student Success Project, or Project CHESS, has the main goal of helping men of color stay in higher education by providing mentorship to students at Cal Lutheran, Oxnard College and Moorpark College.

“Men who want to help, no matter the skin tone, can sign up to mentor and show younger students the ropes of college and give them a leg up that isn’t provided for them,” senior Jerry Tovar said. 

These three institutions, according to the website, have partnered together for the last few years to provide career development workshops, job placement and networking opportunities, and have frequent social events. 

Tovar said the most recent events include hikes, workshops and over the summer the three institutions spent a weekend retreat at the Cal Lutheran dorms. 

Tovar, who has been part of the program for three years, said, “One of the most impacted groups are men of color; they are one of the smallest minorities in higher education. The program started as an initiative to help build connections and a community with mentorship.”

Tovar said Cal Lutheran upperclassmen mentor incoming students from Moorpark and Oxnard College and students already attending the university.

“I heard about the program when I got accepted to the school. I got an email offering me to join the program and come over the summer to live in dorms for a little bit. I thought of it as a fun program that allowed me to meet people before school started,” first-year Roberto Echevarría said. 

Echevarría said the program has been a significant help to the lives of the students who are a part of this initiative; providing a sense of community and maintaining the confidence to stay in college is a crucial component.

Tovar said this program is still small and runs on HSI funding, and some of the funding is provided so members can attend a conference of choice if they lack the resources. 

Tovar said only a few people are running this program and approximately 14 are mentors. He said that the group meets Tuesdays from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. and during this hour, they host various workshops that help the students map out their professional success. 

“I say this program is beneficial. It gets me out, we did a hike two weeks ago and it really helped me explore nature in an area I had never been before,” sophomore Justin Duverge Jimenez said.

Duverge Jimenez said the application process to join Project CHESS is a form along with an interview.

“It is definitely a great idea to join. It also looks great on your resume. We also plan to go on trips and do more social events,” Duverge Jimenez said.

Tovar and Duverge Jimenez said there is no set schedule for future activities, however, the group continues to meet weekly to provide support for one another. 

“I’ve met a lot of great people through the program, and I’ve made a lot of connections, especially since it is my first year here. Being a part of the program helped me establish how I wanted to start in college,” Echevarría said. 

Tovar, Duverge Jimenez and Echevarría encourage more students to join their initiative in helping men of color in higher education continue their journey.

“We have to make sure the community knows what the program is about,” Tovar said. “We need more people to sign up to make sure that the program is popular. I feel like a lot of people should sign up and give it a chance. Make it what it should and could be.”