The University of the Incarnate Word received a $2.9 million federal grant to establish a mentorship program to increase the number of Latino students graduating from the university and entering graduate health programs, the school announced Monday.

The mentorship program will provide Latino students with a network of mentors who can help those at risk of not graduating with everything from deciding which classes to take when, identifying internship opportunities, and preparing for graduate school entrance exams, said Sandy McMakin, University of the Incarnate Word (UIW) associate provost.

Called the Financial Literacy, Integrated Guidance and Health career Tracts (FLIGHT) program, it will focus on steering students into UIW’s five health graduate schools.

“Research has shown that having a network of mentors who contribute diverse backgrounds and skills to assist students at varying stages is much more effective than one or more standalone mentoring programs,” McMakin said.

The first step in establishing the mentorship program will be training faculty, staff, and students to become mentors who can guide students on their paths to graduation, McMakin said. UIW plans to create a physical space in the Student Engagement Center for the FLIGHT program by the end of 2022 so students have somewhere to seek out mentors and other resources.

UIW also will use the grant to create a health professions pathway in which students will work with their FLIGHT mentors and the Health Professions Advisory Council, which is a group of undergraduate faculty and mentors who support the undergraduate academic programs that lead into the graduate health schools.

Additionally, the university plans to establish a first-year seminar course that will be taught by FLIGHT-certified faculty so students receive help from the beginning of their college careers.

McMakin said many of UIW’s students are first-generation students and Latino students, and research shows that they are the least likely to understand the steps they need to take outside the classroom to be strong applicants for graduate programs.

Currently, UIW’s six-year graduation rate is about 59% for both the general student population and the Latino student population, but the goal is to get 60% of students to graduate in four years, McMakin said. About 52% of the university’s 7,900 students are Latino, according to 2020 enrollment figures.

“It’s a very ambitious goal, but we believe we can do it by getting students on the appropriate pathway,” she said.

“We want to parlay on our strength with our health professional schools and help our students understand the pathways that lead to health professions,” she said. “Many times students don’t know how to ask the right questions, and they shouldn’t have to. That’s where a mentor can help.”

The five graduate health schools are: Feik School of Pharmacy, Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing and Health Professions, Rosenberg School of Optometry, School of Osteopathic Medicine, and School of Physical Therapy.

Brooke Crum covered education for the San Antonio Report.