Big Eagle Little Eagle students on their trip to Washington, D.C., in February.

Niagara University celebrated the accomplishments of 18 students from Niagara Falls High School who participated in one of its two college mentorship programs during a graduation ceremony Thursday, May 7, 2020. The celebration was held via Zoom due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In partnership with the Niagara Falls School District, both the Big Eagle Little Eagle and the REAC3H programs connect high school juniors and seniors with people and resources to become critical thinkers and outstanding leaders, and provide “a powerful means for enhancing student achievement and cultivating college-going cultures,” said Dr. Rolanda Ward, associate professor of social work and endowed faculty director of the Rose Bente Lee Ostapenko Center for Race, Equality, and Mission. “The collaboration focuses on improving the college readiness of high school students and close the opportunity and achievement gaps that separate groups of students.”

Eight of the graduating students participated in the Big Eagle Little Eagle program, during which they received one-to-one peer mentoring from Niagara University students; shadowed college classes based on their individual interests; and attended presentations and workshops held by university departments including financial aid, admissions, career services, and the Niagara University Opportunity Program. They also traveled to Washington, D.C., in February, on a trip sponsored by Niagara University’s Office of Multicultural Affairs as part of its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. The BELE program was established in 2016 to connect NU students with juniors and seniors from Niagara Falls High School to aid with the transition from high school to college.

BELE students were Toddjanae Seals, Hayley Rosa, Carmen Timmons, Ly'Tysiah Jordan, Niesha Parchment, Ariel Joyce, Diamond Strawder, and Destiny Hamilton.

The 10 graduating students from the REAC3H program were members of its pilot class. REAC3H was created to address a racial disparity within education and facilitate the opportunity for students of color to take college classes and graduate at the same rate as their Caucasian peers, said team leader Joelle Penner.

Those students were Jasiah Jackson, Gianna Ianniello, Jahdiaum Love, Hassan Travis-Frank, Mahogani Lewis, Zakarria Perkins, Carmen Timmons, Amiah Hooks, Sydni Booze, and Aliyah Carter.

“I would really like to thank these seniors for being such dedicated and committed students,” Penner said. “It has allowed this program to grow and become what it is today and what it will be in the future.”

The ceremony featured a presentation by Ostapenko scholar Jahdiaum Love on “The Alleviation of Systemic Poverty Through Education”; and remarks from the Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University president; Dr. Timothy Ireland, Niagara University provost and vice president of academic affairs; and Mark Laurrie, Niagara Falls School superintendent. Graduating students and their mentors also shared their memories of the programs.

“Little Eagles and Ostapenko scholars, you spent the last 18 months investing in your future,” Ward said. “We are very proud of you. You have worked hard to expand your minds, to become critical thinkers, and to work toward your goals. Niagara University is here for you. The relationship you built with NU faculty and NU staff is lifelong. Work hard, shot for the stars, stand out, excel, and always do your very best.”

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