Staff, students find support through mentorship

GVL / Courtesy - GVSU Niara Mentoring Program

GVSU Niara Mentoring Program

GVL / Courtesy – GVSU Niara Mentoring Program

Nestled within the comforts of Grand Valley State University’s Women’s Center, in collaboration with the Office of Multicultural Affairs, women of color will come together throughout the year for guidance, support, connection and discussion.

Niara is a Swahili word, meaning “one with high purpose.” Now, it also means a GVSU mentorship program, connecting women students of color to staff and faculty of color in order to enhance their college experience.

Takeelia Garrett, student mentor and Niara coordinator, said the program was started by GVSU alumna Shaun Simon as her senior project in 2008-09. Simon saw a need for black women to have a mentor on campus, and that need was not being met.

Today, Niara is open to all women of color on GVSU’s campus.

“We’ve seen that our women of color on campus tend to work together a lot, so there’s no need to break it apart,” Garrett said.

When students join Niara, they are paired up with individual mentors to build connections and create a support system that meets the student’s needs.

“That individual mentoring piece is so important, because you want someone that you’re able to talk to about what’s happening at home as well as what’s happening at school,” Garrett said. “Someone to help break down that barrier, bring those two worlds together or find balance.”

Allison Montaie, assistant director of GVSU’s Women’s Center, coordinates Niara in tandem with Garrett, in addition to mentoring students with the program. She began working with Niara in 2012 and stayed involved ever since.

“(Mentorship) is something I could have benefited from when I was in college. I struggled a lot in undergrad and that’s something I’m very transparent with my students about,” Montaie said.

Niara helps students to navigate through the ups and downs of life through shared experience and connection-building with the community and the campus. The mentors and coordinators strive to help students create relationships with those ready to help, through their own college experience and into their careers.

“We want them to know they have support at GVSU,” Garrett said. “They can make it a home away from home. We’re resource people, support people.”

In addition to the individual mentorship Niara provides, members come together once a month for discussion and meetings on being a woman of color on GVSU’s campus. All meetings will take place on Thursdays throughout the academic year, from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., with an optional complimentary dinner served in the Women’s Center at 5:15 p.m.

Niara’s first meeting starts with the kick off event held Sept. 8. This will be a chance for welcoming, introductions and background about the program and mentors involved.

This year, Niara’s meetings will provide space for students and mentors to talk about career development and networking, have opportunities for story-telling and painting and take part in discussions.

“We’re really trying to create that space where we can all come together and share in a common experience,” Montaie said.

Students can join in the discussions and meetings or find a mentor through Niara any time throughout the year. Information, sign-ups and the Niara calendar can be found at