Roxbury college partners with Dropout Academy on six-week mental health development workshop

Dropout Academy founder, Kurt Faustin, spoke to students Oct. 24 about goal setting. Faustin hopes colleges will follow RCC in prioritizing retention for all students. “I hope they’re willing to invest not necessarily into students coming in, but the students finishing.” Faustin said. Roxbury Community College

A three-year-old organization, the Dropout Academy, is partnering with Roxbury Community College (RCC) in an effort aimed at helping students of color “drop out” of circumstances where “limiting thoughts” get in the way of a fulfilling college experience.

Founded by its CEO, Kurt Faustin, the academy focuses on mental health issues and the educational aspects of emotional intelligence. Last fall, he brought his organization to the college level by joining with RCC to set up a six-week mental health development workshop that would concentrate on increasing student retention rates.

Faustin and Robin Shahid-Bellot, the community college’s dean of students, created the workshop after Faustin reached out last spring. Together, Bellot says, they wanted to come up with another campus resource that “meets students where they are.”

Said Shahid-Bellot: “At Roxbury, students are very resilient, but they face many challenges, specifically with our men of color. We were looking to create more impact and expand a program that we already had on campus.” Faustin, who founded Dropout Academy in 2020 hoping to change a “stigma” he saw surrounding the pursuit of a college degree by men and women of color, was of the same set of mind, and he envisioned the partnership with RCC as another way to combat that stigma for those most affected by it.

“A lot of black and brown people, we’re not getting our higher education.” Faustin said. “We’re not finishing college, or it takes us longer to get a college degree. So, we thought it was a great partnership to say, ‘You know what: Let’s work in depth with a higher educational institution that believes in us.’”

Each of the workshop’s 90-minute sessions centered on different “soft” elements like goal setting, financial literacy, and developing a growth mindset. “We’re taught science, we’re taught math, we’re taught history,” Faustin said. “But when’s the last time we learned about emotional intelligence?”

For Roy Kalu, a Dropout Academy graduate and soon-to-be RCC graduate, the workshops created a comfortable environment for everyone. “It was never an awkward situation where people were judging other people,” Kalu said. “It just felt like it was a bunch of me’s in the classroom.”

Lloyd Cayman, an engineering student and Dorchester native, explained how taking the class changed how he thought. “It’s a place where there’s people speaking about things that you might not be able to find in your own world or personal life,” he said. “And if you’re not an outspoken person, it allows you to hear these things and the people speaking help you to evaluate your thoughts.”

Kalu will graduate in the spring with a degree in Information Systems, and Cayman expects to graduate with an associate degree next year.

Out of a total of 27 students enrolled in the first Dropout Academy’s workshop class, 24 completed the program. For Shahid-Bellot, the high retention rate speaks for itself. “At the end of the day, these types of programs are about retaining students,” Shahid-Bellot said. “And the program did just that.”

Faustin hopes that other colleges will follow his and RCC’s lead by looking to implement programs like the Dropout’s workshop and change the narrative that getting a degree is the only end goal.

“It’s having a happy-go-lucky-life,” Faustin said. “That should be the goal, and a college degree is a step toward that.”

Looking ahead, the RCC-Dropout Academy workshop will resume next semester, and this time, offer student mentors from its first graduating class.

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