VISTA provides Muleriders a unique experience

With the priority goal of breaking cycles of poverty for students, the SAU+VISTA program continues to make a difference in the lives of current and future Muleriders on our campus. In 2019, an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) program was established at SAU toward the goal of poverty alleviation through college degree completion and early college access, courtesy of $250,000 in grant support from the Corporation for National & Community Service (CNCS). The program is under the direction of SAU’s First Lady and Senior Advisor for Institutional Advancement, Dr. Katherine Berry.

Over three years, the SAU+VISTA project seeks to meet the following goals: identify poverty-related barriers among current and future students and then reduce barriers that prevent degree completion and advise, coach, mentor and shepherd students in landing their first job post-college. The team also works to create more efficient processes to encourage service among students and inspires and actively encourages the next generation to pursue a college degree. Alysia Hurt also serves as the SAU+VISTA representative to LeaderCorps, a statewide group sponsored by EngageAR, Arkansas’ state commission on national service.

In just one year, the SAU + VISTA AmeriCorps have volunteered their time through several different projects. SAU + VISTA fellow Hurt has worked with the Mulerider Teen College team to revamp the curriculum for 6th-8th graders at the weeklong summer camp. She has worked to create different career tracks that will be incorporated to spark interest in college education for our future Muleriders in the community.

The mental health of college students remains one of the biggest obstacles for students when faced with the stress that can come along with continuing their education. SAU+VISTA Fellow, Kyle Plunk, saw the need for a facility where our students could go during the day to take their minds off of their studies and have a healthy escape from their busy schedules. With the help of the Counseling Center, they established the Rest and Relaxation Room. This room is a place where students can lounge on the couches or bean bag chairs, enjoy a massage in the Real Relax massage chair, or participate in their preferred means of meditation.

The Mulerider Market- a project led by Fellow, Macye Plunk, is one that will make a difference in the lives of our students in a big way. It is a resource available to all current students who need food or personal hygiene items. To use the Mulerider Market, students must present a valid student ID and can pick out what items they want in their package. All students are able to receive one package per week full of essential items they might not have access to otherwise. When SAU+VISTA Director, Dr. Katherine Berry learned about the troubling statistics related to food insecurity among college students, she knew action was needed. “Having this program staffed with talented young adults allows SAU to tackle real problems that run parallel to the college experience. As an educator, we know that hunger is direct barrier to learning. SAU students should not, and I hope will not, ever need to go hungry. Mulerider Market is a solution to this very real concern.”

One project the VISTA’s look forward to kicking off next year is Career AIM (Alumni Inspiring Muleriders). This Alumni Mentor Program enables alumni to share their professional and personal experience and expertise with a current SAU student and foster a meaningful relationship between the two.

Alumni do not have to be on campus to make an impact. Whether you are right down the street or across the globe, we invite alumni from around the world to be part of Career AIM. The connections made in this program will give Muleriders a unique experience and provide insight into life beyond SAU.

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