Odyssey Helps First-Year Students Find Second Home at Holy Cross

Starting in the summer, the program continues throughout students' time on The Hill.

Chris Campbell '15 received a note this summer from an incoming first-year student. The Texas native wrote Campbell, director of the College of the Holy Cross' Office of Multicultural Education (OME), noting that even though she hailed from thousands of miles away, choosing Holy Cross was the "right decision because it feels like home to me."

It's a sentiment that Campbell wants every student to feel after they arrive on Mount St. James.

The foundation of establishing the College as a home away from home began this summer for some via Odyssey, a transitional and community-building program that welcomes first-generation college students, students of color and Pell-Grant-eligible students.

"I want our students to see Holy Cross as their home," Campbell said. "When they're leaving, when they’re graduating, I still want them to hold on to that experience."

Created in 1997, Odyssey begins with a mentoring program held during the summer prior to a student's first year, then evolves into year-long academic mentoring. 

Campbell, who participated in Odyssey as a student, envisions the program as an experience that is part of students' lives during their entire time at the College.

"Through the workshops that were provided, they definitely helped me to think critically: What does it mean to be a Holy Cross student? What can I offer to this community?" Campbell said. "I think it ties into belonging. When you think about some of the students participating in Odyssey, they hold minoritized identities. At the end of the day, I think it's important for students to walk away thinking they do belong."

A week before the start of the fall semester, Odyssey participants move in early and spend that time getting to know each other, Holy Cross and the Worcester community.

In her first year at the College, Zae Valera, new OME assistant director, wants to create a feeling of openness between students, mentors and staff. 

"I'm a first-generation student who was eligible for a Pell Grant, so I’m very honest with students. I was once in a similar position," Valera said. "We lead with compassion and understanding along with our own vulnerability, because how do we expect people to trust us and know us without giving something? What I hope for all Odyssey participants and all of these summer immersion programs is that they were able to try something new, to experience something they haven’t experienced before in a community they've never met and that they felt comfortable to try new things."