Focused Inquiry–Villa partnership

Since September 2014, first-year Virginia Commonwealth University undergraduates have enrolled in one section of Focused Inquiry, a general education seminar. These students have served as near-peer mentors for students at St. Joseph’s Villa, a non-profit that provides special, nontraditional, and alternative education to students from the Richmond area. Each year, approximately 22 VCU first-year students have provided 40+ hours each of mentoring to Villa students diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, emotional disabilities, specific learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, and other health impairments. Villa also serves students who have been suspended or expelled from public schools and students who benefit from a more holistic approach to education. The VCU students visit the Villa to offer mentoring and support, and each semester, Villa students can earn up to five trips to VCU, where they participate in student-designed activities, eat lunch with their mentors, and collaborate with VCU students on short film projects. VCU first-year students have provided the Villa students with relatable peer mentors in a college setting, helping to make post-secondary education seem a more attainable possibility. On the other hand, VCU first-year undergraduates have benefited from having an authentic, meaningful focus for their academic work in their class. We have found this to be a fruitful collaboration, and innovative in that it connects first-year undergraduates, a population that has fewer opportunities for service learning, with our community.

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