“It feels good to help the students because you know how it feels to be in their shoes,” affirms Gateway Mentor Mayra DeLeon, pictured above, at right, with Gateway director Katara Robinson. She and fellow Gateway Mentor Parris Nichols understand what Gateway to College at Springfield Technical Community College means to its students because as graduates of the program, they have been there.

Parris (Gateway class of 2015) says that the Gateway program, a partnership between Springfield Public Schools and STCC, was his last chance at a high school diploma: “Gateway was literally in its title,” he says. “That’s what it felt like to me, like a gateway…you can pretty much do whatever you want to do” after graduation. In addition to providing an alternative way of earning a high school diploma, the Gateway program gave him the opportunity to experience college free of charge.

Gateway to College students take all their classes at STCC, earning transferable college credits or placement for most classes. Gateway also covers the cost of tuition, fees, books, and public transportation. Gateway students have access to all the supports and benefits available at the College, plus Gateway staff provide individualized academic and personal support with a family atmosphere that helps students achieve.

Parris Nichols

Parris and Mayra (Gateway class of 2016) both cite the small size of this alternative high school program and the individualized support they received as keys to their success. Mayra notes, “Gateway gave me love. And that’s what I needed the most at that moment. A lot of students, we are trying to find ourselves and what we want to do, and what’s our next step.” The Gateway staff, she says, “give you all the tools… They help you identify yourself.” Parris likewise feels that the Gateway program and being on the STCC campus gave him “the freedom to be myself” and that the Gateway staff “were there to help me, make sure I was on track with everything, so I was supported.”

As Gateway Mentors, Parris and Mayra thus offer current Gateway to College students even more support, which they are uniquely qualified to give. Parris wants to be “someone who can relate to them,” noting that “being a student there 5-6 years ago…I understand some of what they’re going through.” Mayra adds that it helps students to be “looked out for with somebody that’s within your age range.”

Mayra and Parris understand how valuable the added support of Gateway Mentors is. Mayra says, “I’m giving them support and somebody to trust – because that is hard to find.”

Parris appreciates that Gateway brought the Mentors on to “make sure these students know they’re not alone, they can do this,” adding, “That’s really powerful.”

Gateway to College at STCC was proud and grateful to be awarded a 2021 STCC Foundation Innovation Grant (FIG) to fund the Gateway Mentor positions this spring. Gateway to College is currently taking applications. More information about Gateway to College at STCC is available on the Gateway website, which offers an online information session.