Finding Family: Over 200 students bond at first in-person IMPACT since pandemic's start

For the first time since 2019, a fully in-person IMPACT welcomed incoming Central Michigan University students to campus for three days filled with fun activities, thoughtful conversation and most of all, bonding.

“Our Core Staff has been working so hard this year, more than any other year, because this is the first IMPACT post-covid,” said Brenden Seewald, Livonia senior and IMPACT mentor coordinator.

About 230 freshman and transfer students moved into residence halls Sunday to begin their journey at CMU. This year’s theme, IMPACT N’ Out was inspired by the MTV comedy battle game show, "Wild N’ Out."

“We’ve added a deeper meaning to (the theme),” said Jewel Larkin, assistant director of mentoring initiatives in the Office of Multicultural Academic Student Services.

“Basically, once you arrive you want to start transforming spaces – impacting spaces – that you enter. And then once you continue to be impactful – transformational – you will effortlessly impact spaces beyond CMU.”

From Aug. 21-23, students participated in various games, heard from educational speakers and formed lasting relationships in the place they will call home in the coming years.

Created in 2016, IMPACT was designed to build a community for underrepresented students and ease their transition to CMU.

“We are the first people that they’re going to see on campus,” said Ja’Dore Jones, Ypsilanti senior. “(To show students) they are welcome here and that they shouldn’t feel uncomfortable or shouldn't feel that they have to run off or stay in their own dorms just because they don’t see people that look like them.”

Jones attended IMPACT as a freshman and despite being a mentor for her third year in a row, she said this is the first time her experience as a mentor will not be overshadowed by COVID-19.

“It was very much hands off,” she said. “A lot of the (students), their social skills weren’t necessarily intact.”

Like every year, IMPACT participants were divided into groups called families.

“It’s kind of like a family tree, if you will,” Larkin said.

Four main groups, called distinct, empowered, resilient and tenacious, were divided into 14 to 16 smaller “families”, made up of eight to 10 mentees and two mentors each. Those smaller groups were given names like jubilant, poise and serendipity.

The words were selected, Larkin said, so that “when you hear it, you think about your IMPACT family."

Macomb freshman Bianca Cabarios said meeting friends – and finding her IMPACT family – helped ease her nerves.

“On my drive up here, I was really nervous that I was not going to be as social as I was in high school,” she said. “Once I got here, it was so easy because of these people. They make me feel so comfortable.”

Cabarios said having mentors who are minorities in a position of power on campus “means a lot” to her.

Detroit junior, Marcus Williams, who became a mentor to support students like Cabarios, said, as a freshman in IMPACT, he felt like his mentors did not support him as much as they should have.

“My father had passed right before I came to school, and it was really hard… And sometimes at moments, I felt like I had really no one to talk to and really no one to rely on,” he said.

Williams said he wants to try to encourage anybody who was in a similar position.

“I want (my mentees) to understand that I’m going to always be in their corner,” he said.

Larkin said IMPACT, while sometimes viewed as “a program for Black students”, is pushing its boundaries and is here to represent all identities regardless of race.

“Yes, it’s a minority dominant program, but it’s beautiful because of that, too,” she said. “(We are) really starting to push that messaging forward about (there is) way more to your identity, in addition to your race.”