February is Black History Month, and Bakersfield College is launching a new program to help guide black students through their education at Bakersfield College. The new African-American Male Mentoring Project is designed to increase academic performance, retention, graduation/transfer rates, and to decrease drop-out rates among black males.This project is essential in our effort to increase the success of African-American students, said Tawntannisha Thompson, president of the Bakersfield College Student Government Association. Research shows that these students have low grade point averages and often fail to return to college from one year to the next. African-American males at Bakersfield College consistently rank at the bottom of educational success and persistence among studies across ethnicity and gender.Bakersfield College black male students have traditionally performed lower than their counterparts, and success in completing a course of study or transferring to a four-year college or university has been poor. During the 2010-2011 academic year in particular, there were 638 black males enrolled for coursework at Bakersfield College. Overall, this group had an average grade point average of 1.63, a decline from 2.13 on average in the 2005-2006 academic year. Just 17 completed an associate of arts or associate of science degree, and just 17 completed a certificate program. During this same period, the number of black male students returning to Bakersfield College from one fall semester to the next fell from 43 percent to 18 percent.This program will not benefit our students if they do not show up, said Derrick Kenner, general counsel for the Bakersfield College Student Government Association. Honestly, these students often feel as though nothing else on campus is working for them, and they feel as though they are alone, and that there is no one who understands them or cares about them.Through services such as academic advising, financial aid counseling, tutoring, mentoring, and transfer assistance, the African-American Male Mentoring Project will foster a community of students while enhancing and advancing their educational opportunities. During February, a series of events focusing on black male students at Bakersfield College will be offered, and all black male students at Bakersfield College are encouraged to participate.The African-American Male Mentoring Project was conceived after a campus reading and panel discussion of The Other Wes Moore during One Book, One Bakersfield, One Kern last year, said Thompson. At the panel discussion, our students had so many questions, concerns, and comments about how to get through college, be successful in life, and how to find the support they need to becoe better people. That very night, the Student Government Association formed the mentoring project.Each participant will have a professional mentor from the Bakersfield community who will help the student focus on building essential skills needed to become responsible and productive citizens, and address their social, emotional, and cultural needs. The mentors have been trained to act as confidants, ombudsmen, advocates, and role models, and have been selected from professions such as government, business, education, law enforcement, community agencies, and faith-based communities.Many of these students do not have father figures in their lives, so the mentor project will bring that role into their lives, explained Kenner. The mentors will keep them afloat in all areas of their academic career, and their personal lives as well. I really think that this program is highly necessary for Bakersfield College as a whole, to help the system keep from failing these students.Community members interested in learning more about the African-American Mentoring Project can contact Joyce Coleman, dean of students at Bakersfield College, at 661-395-4051. A community event highlighting the program will be held on Wednesday, February 1, at 6 p.m. in the Bakersfield College Fireside Room.