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First One-Hundred Students Set to Start at Messina College in July

Come July, 100 students pursuing associate’s degrees will step foot on Boston College’s Brookline campus to begin their studies at Messina College, a two-year residential program for first-generation students and the ninth school within Boston College.

“I’m very proud of the institution—that we’re doing this in such an intentional way for a group of students that we know face sort of an uphill battle to get there,” Erick Berrelleza, S.J., dean of Messina College, said. 

BC announced its plan to establish Messina College over two years ago in Jan. 2022 as an offshoot of the Pine Manor Institute (PMI) of Student Success, the University’s initiative for supporting first-generation students.

The purpose of Messina College is to set students up for academic success while supporting them in making independent decisions, Berrelleza said.

“While we understand what the barriers are, it’s the students themselves who’ll tear the barriers down,” Berrelleza said. “So we want to make sure that they’re the agents of their own journey, but we’re setting it up so that they can do really well here.”

Berrelleza said his passion for this work stems from his own identity as a Spanish speaker and a son of immigrants, which helps him better connect with students from similar backgrounds.

“I was thinking, ‘What a great alignment it is,’” Berrelleza said. 

Nevertheless, it is important to recognize that the incoming students come from various backgrounds and have diverse stories, Berrelleza said. 

“While we have some shared identities, there’s so much nuance and identity,” Berrelleza said. “We have to make sure that when we think about student success and supporting our students, that we get to understand them really well and get to know them and their unique set of experiences.”

Joy Moore, vice president and executive director of PMI and BC ’81, said aiding in the founding of Messina College was a way for her to give back to the community that once supported her. 

“I believe fully in the mission of Boston College, as well as Pine Manor,” Moore said. “They’re very similar in the desire to use your skills and talents to help other people.”

Moore said the University’s decision to launch Messina College was a bold move, but one that signified notable progress at BC.

“I think that it’s important to—as much as we talk about how we reach out to those who are less fortunate, and so forth—to show it is a whole other ball game, so to speak,” Moore said.

Berrelleza said that throughout the development of Messina College, he considered the various components of ensuring student success.

“We know the challenges around financial pressure, whether a student feels a sense of belonging to a place, sometimes mental health concerns, which you can never really anticipate—it can affect any population of students,” Berrelleza said. 

The fact that Messina College is also a residential education experience, eliminating transportation issues that students might face, is a key component as well, Berrelleza said.

“The balance of work and attending school as a commuter—usually at community colleges [and] also at other four-year colleges—those students often face a lot more challenges trying to complete [their education],” Berrelleza said. “Life can just get in the way.”

Although Messina College will have its own campus in Brookline, it is still an extension of the other colleges operating on BC’s campus, Berrelleza said.

“When we think about the constellation of campuses that we have, there’s a lot of interest to get involved in this program,” Berrelleza said. “And so we’ll have faculty teaching from the different schools, from Morrissey and Lynch, Connell and Carroll. They’ll all participate in helping support these students.”

Last week, the UGBC Senate passed a bill to create a Senate seat for a student from Messina College’s inaugural class. This is just one way in which Messina students will integrate into the greater BC community, Berrelleza said.

“The students do the best job of creating the synergy between the community,” Berrelleza said.
“Our students will have full access also to the different clubs and organizations of this campus, aside from the facilities.”

By increasing representation for first-generation students, Messina College will bring a notable change to BC, Moore said.

“I think it will change the landscape down the road,” Moore said. “It’s not going to happen in the next five years or maybe even 10, but it’s that piece about access and opening the door a little bit wider for first-gen students and students from underserved and underrepresented communities.”

As students from Messina College transition to campus, it is important for the greater BC community to maintain a welcoming environment, Moore added.

“The more there is that warm welcome and outreach that I know our students are famous for, it’s going to make the new Messina students much more comfortable and ready to go,” Moore said.

April 21, 2024