By Sam Lennon
Donald Webb has spent his past two summers mentoring the next generation of students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Webb is a junior at UTC majoring in elementary education with a minor in ESL (English as a Second Language) from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. In 2022, he was recruited to be a mentor for the first MOC Academy.
“MOC Academy stands for Men of Color Academy. It’s like a head start for us men of color,” said Webb.
MOC Academy starts with a jam-packed summer session. Incoming freshmen stayed on campus for the month of July and participated in all sorts of events. They visited the zoo, the Hunter Museum and many other Chattanooga staples.
Participation in MOC Academy is completely free, with housing, meals and events provided to the students at no cost.
The goal is to help them acclimate to UTC and Chattanooga by building connections through fun and educational activities
“In the first year of college, you don’t know who you’re going to meet. You’re scared, and you’re away from home. MOC Academy helps you get to meet new people before you come to college, so you already have some connections when you get there,” said Webb.
There is also a strong mentorship aspect to the program, where students of color who have been at UTC for at least a year help lead these new students.
“It’s a lot like a ‘Big Brother’ program because we are a bit older than them, and if they ever need us throughout the year, we are here,” said Webb.
For two students, the “Big Brother” aspect is quite literal.
Andy and Rudy Tomas are brothers who have been living in Chattanooga for the past eight years.
Rudy Tomas, the younger of the two, said they are “a year, one month and two days apart.”
Andy Tomas was part of the first cohort of MOC Academy students last year. He is a management major starting his second year at UTC. Now, he has helped to guide his younger brother through the same program that made him feel at home at UTC.
The brothers are originally from Guatemala. “We used to move basically every other year between the USA and Guatemala,” said Andy Tomas.
They moved back and forth from Guatemala, Kentucky, Missouri and Tennessee before settling in Chattanooga, but most of their extended family still lives in Guatemala. The brothers are both first-generation college students.
“My dad had two or three years of elementary education, and my mom only had one year. I’m a first-generation elementary, middle school, high school and college student,” said Andy Tomas.
Being the first college students in their family means that the support structure that MOC Academy provides is even more valuable. In addition to bonding activities and exploring what Chattanooga has to offer, MOC Academy enrolls the students in a course designed to teach them more about the college experience.
It is a one-credit-hour class about navigating academia, including topics like professionalism, the purpose of a college education and academic opportunities with an emphasis on educational and career planning.
MOC Academy is not limited to July. After the summer session is over, the 17 students in this year’s cohort will continue to receive support throughout the academic year and participate in events that encourage engagement on campus.
The network they become a part of at UTC can also lead to other opportunities. In addition to his job as a mentor, Andy Tomas will be working as one of the first Spanish-speaking tour guides at UTC. As he put it, “Those connections are coming in handy.”
The mentorship received is likely the most valuable among MOC Academy’s benefits. The mentors are passionate about the first-year students, especially during their busiest month of the summer.
“Maybe I’m tired at the end of the day, but I’m still going to make sure they’re good. I make sure I’m active enough to hang out with them, play games or just have a conversation with them at nighttime. No matter how long it takes,” said Webb.
Interested in becoming a peer mentor? Click here to apply.