The beginning of a new school year is never lacking in excitement. This year, Brooke Moreland has an extra reason for enthusiasm.
Moreland was selected as the Achievement in Education winner for the 2020 Governor's Celebration of Community Service Awards. Six Black Hoosiers were honored for their exceptional efforts across different professions through a partnership between Indiana Black Expo, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb.
As the assistant director of the 21st Century Scholars Success Program, Moreland's main responsibility is working with and overseeing initiatives for the 4,600-plus 21st Century Scholars at IUPUI.
The Achievement in Education award is given to "an educator who has used innovative strategies to increase achievement for their students."
Moreland was nominated by six individuals and was thrilled to earn the award in a virtual ceremony that took place Aug. 26.
"It's fuel for my engine to start the year with something positive like this," she said. "It encourages me to continue doing the best I can with students."
Many of the 21st Century Scholars are first-generation college students and students of color who would not be able to afford college without the program. Led by the Indiana Commission for Higher Education, the program has required criteria the students must meet to stay eligible.
"It's not a bad weight on your shoulders, but it's motivating to want to do the best I can and help provide them with the best information," Moreland said.
One of the program's main goals is to make the transition from high school to college as smooth as possible. Moreland helps execute a first-year peer-mentoring program that is student-driven and includes proactive measures to make sure students are understanding university policies, building social capital and acclimating well to college life.
Successful upperclassmen are hired to provide mentorship for freshmen, and Moreland said one of her happiest student success stories comes from that initiative. A few years ago, she met with a freshman woman who was frustrated and struggling to adjust to college. The student said she would just come to class and then go home; she didn't have a sense of belonging. She wanted an opportunity to be a leader but didn't know how to do so.
After the student's freshman year, Moreland hired her to be a peer mentor, and she thrived. She was able to connect with other students who also experienced that frustration and the search for belonging like she had. Moreland is pleased to report that the former frustrated freshman graduated in the spring and has a good job.
That is the story of just one student, but Moreland said it's an example of how the program empowers the students and their peers. She said she is proud of the work and recognition she's earned.
"I work with a lot of students and do my best to help answer questions and develop programs as if I were helping myself," she said.
There can be a variety of problems and difficult circumstances for students, but Moreland is relentless in supporting her students. She's someone who is willing to send an email to the Indiana Commission for Higher Education or contact a support office on their behalf. Earning this award, she said, only strengthens her resolve.
"When you work in a field like this, not everyone may believe in your form of advocacy, and that's fine," Moreland said. "Some people may love or hate how you advocate, but this award confirms that students, especially high-risk students, really deserve someone to have their back."