Peer mentoring program sets students up for success
Equal opportunity is a big deal for Tim Boroughs. Now that the 1971 IU Northwest graduate has achieved an executive position with Chubb Group, one of the biggest companies in the world, he's dedicated to giving back to where it all started: at IU Northwest.
Earlier this year, Boroughs and his wife Barbara worked with the IU Northwest Office of Development to make a very generous gift—a staggering $250,000—to STARS (Students Together Achieving & Reaching Success), a peer mentoring program housed within the IU Northwest School of Business and Economics focused on first-year, first-generation students as mentees, and continuing junior and senior students as mentors.
"When I heard about this mentoring program for freshmen who are struggling, I knew that if my wife and I could help, that would be an excellent way to give back," Boroughs said. "Through this program, if we can change a number of lives and address that inequality—that's big."
Despite having reached so much success today, Boroughs wasn't always an A+ student. In fact, he said that his high school guidance counselor once discouraged him from attending college in the first place. Against that advice, he enrolled at IU Northwest anyway.
"IU Northwest did so much to prepare me for my future, and to help me develop my confidence," he said. "It is an honor to give back to the school that helped build my foundation.”
HelenMarie Harmon, STARS founder and program director, and director of undergraduate student success and career development, is incredibly enthusiastic about Boroughs' generous gift. "We could not be more appreciative of Tim and Barbara," she said. "Their donation has given us the ability to award scholarships to several eligible STARS students. As a result of their great generosity, they’re already helping and impacting our students.
“Their gift says to our students—we believe in you.”
Since STARS inception in 2017, participation in the nationally recognized program has nearly doubled. And what's more, a whopping 96 percent of participating students continue to stay enrolled the following semester, despite the personal and academic challenges they may have experienced during their first year of study.
"Many students have said they would not have continued their studies or would not have graduated if it wasn’t for STARS," Harmon said.
A rising star: Zeke Williams
One of those students is Zeke Williams. He started out as a shy freshman who struggled with the transition from high school and with leaving his comfort zone. "I began to realize that I had to become comfortable with being uncomfortable,” he said. "The STARS program was a sense of relief. It helped me venture out and see that college was more than just going to class."
Thanks to the kindness of Harmon during Williams’ freshman orientation and the help of a mentor, he discovered STARS and began to … thrive. Now in his senior year, Williams is mentoring first-generation freshmen himself. "I'm forever grateful to be a part of STARS because of the people I've met along the way and the networks I'll have after college," he said.
A part of the STARS program is to move freshmen and sophomore mentees into mentor leadership roles during their junior and senior years. “Zeke is an amazing example of the type of academic growth and professional development that is at the core of the STARS program,” Harmon said.
With so many success stories like Williams', Harmon is grateful for the Boroughs’ gift as it means the prospect of getting more students involved. She has plans to grow the program, as well as start more community outreach projects. Harmon also has several STARS alumni to invite back to campus to share their experiences.
"It's amazing how impactful a peer mentoring program can be for students," she said. "This gift will help us extend our outreach as one of the pillars of STARS is to give back to the community and our campus."
Looking back, to look forward
As Harmon was originally building STARS, she realized that mentoring programs at the university level were not uncommon. However, what makes STARS unique is that it's specific to just business students to forge a stronger connection among like-minded majors.
When Boroughs attended IU Northwest, there was no official mentoring program, but that didn't mean he was on his own. "I was still mentored by my professors, and I felt better about myself when I met other students that were also interested in doing well," he said.
And Williams is a prime example of a student who was interested in doing well. He mentioned the high standards Harmon sets for her STARS, and how she continually raises the bar as students get more comfortable in a college setting.
"I see so much growth with the STARS students," Harmon said. "I like to set the bar high and give them the challenge. I don't want them to quit on themselves."
After all, if Boroughs had quit on himself after being discouraged by his guidance counselor, he might not be the successful executive he is today. Looking back on his past experiences, he said that confidence is key to growth. "Think of ways to improve your confidence. If you're confident in yourself, when you run into periods of adversity, you're better equipped to navigate them," he said.
Boroughs was more than happy to work with the Office of Development to give back to the place that means so much to him. Helping students is what drives his generosity. However, it's hard to leave out the personal satisfaction one gets from giving back. "The feeling you get when you're able to give back, to see a smile on someone's face and watch them do well—that’s huge and means so much to us," he added.
And it seems like Harmon, Williams, and the rest of the STARS community will also be smiling for a long time, too. With an extraordinary potential for scholarships, cultural experiences, community engagement, and travel, Boroughs’ donation and STARS students are—both— destined to go a long way.