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Western Kentucky University’s ISEC receives $60,000 grant from Jessie Ball duPont Fund

The Cynthia and George Nichols III Intercultural Student Engagement Center (ISEC) has received a $60,000 grant from the Jessie Ball duPont Fund for The Climb Continues, a project to support Western Kentucky University sophomore and junior students of color through programming to increase retention and four-year graduation rates, achieve academic progress, obtain financial literacy and create a stronger cultural campus climate.

ISEC provides student success services, programs and events for the WKU community, particularly underrepresented minority students who may be first-generation and Pell-eligible. Focusing on all aspects of a WKU student’s educational journey, ISEC also offers one-on-one advising and other individualized outreach to ensure student success.

The Climb Continues will provide outreach and programming for sophomores and juniors because, according to Dr. Martha Sales, Executive Director of ISEC and WKU TRIO Programs, fewer programs specifically target those students.

“We will be able to increase our capacity by about 200 additional students through this grant,” said Dr. Sales. “We will be intentional in recruiting students who have never taken part in ISEC activities before as we continue to challenge the students we currently work with. We invite students to come to WKU and start their journeys and we celebrate when they finish and graduate, but we don’t always focus on that sophomore and junior experience.

“My dream is for ISEC to serve every student of color on campus in some capacity, and this grant allows us to tap into some students we haven’t served yet,” added Dr. Sales.

Sophomore programming focuses on community engagement, campus involvement and personal and professional development. Programming for juniors focuses on career readiness, job shadowing, internships and appearance to allow students to best present who they are and who they want to be.

Dr. Sales said a large focus of the grant will be empowering and growing students’ social-cultural skills like code-switching.

“Students enrolled at predominantly white universities have to assimilate to ‘Main Street’ ways of doing things and that doesn’t always come easily,” said Dr. Sales. “Sometimes they don’t realize they already have those skills, and they are a strength and can be enhanced. One thing we do with ISEC is to teach students how to enhance those skills.”

Additionally, funding through the grant will also be used to provide a study away experience for 50 students of color at close to no-cost to the students.

“Often, even when study abroad and study away opportunities are made available for students of color, they are often still unable to participate,” said Dr. Sales. “It is very important for students of color to see themselves outside of WKU where they are strong and resilient. Through an experience like an off-campus cultural trip, they will be exposed to other ‘superheroes’ and see that they themselves already are ‘superheroes.’ We are just providing them a cape.”

Trenton Peyton, a graduate student from Glasgow, Ky., who is pursuing a degree in Recreation and Sport Administration, recently joined ISEC in this position.

“This graduate assistantship is very important to me,” said Peyton. “It is providing me with an opportunity to grow both personally and professionally, and I get to work with people who look like me and have my best interests at heart. I am excited to be at WKU and help students have a great start to the school year.”

Lamario Moore, a Student Success Advisor for ISEC who previously worked as a graduate assistant with the Center and who graduated from WKU in 2020 with a Master of Arts in Education in Student Affairs, echoed Peyton’s thoughts about the Center.

“Working with ISEC is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Moore. “Throughout my journey at WKU, ISEC was transformational in my personal and professional experiences. Finding like-minded people was very important to me, too.”

While this grant from the Jacksonville, Fla., based duPont Fund enhances the Center’s ability to serve more students, it also takes them one step closer to Dr. Sales’ ultimate goal: every student who was helped by ISEC “paying it forward” to help others.

“Through our work, we are laying the foundation for all students to be able to reach the top. Any student of color who steps on WKU’s campus will know there is somebody here for them. There’s a space for them,” said Dr. Sales. “I want it to never stop. The seed we are planting now, those roots go so deep that it never stops producing.”

To support ISEC, make a gift through the ongoing Back to School SpiritFunder campaign, a way for WKU alumni and friends to show WKU students that the entire Hilltopper Family supports their return to class.

From Western Kentucky University

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