maroon wave
SU 2023 Powerful Connections Cohort

SU's Largest Powerful Connections Cohort Makes Relationships for a Lifetime

SALISBURY, MD---As Amiyah Brunson of Snow Hill, MD, begins her first semester at Salisbury University this week, she may not yet know her course schedule by heart, which rooms her classes are in or even the shortest path to each building.

What she does know is that there are many faculty, staff and students she can turn to for support, thanks to SU’s Powerful Connections initiative.

This year, Brunson was one of 100 enrolled as part of the largest class in the program’s history. As a pre-semester experience, Powerful Connections serves as a vital tool for many new students from diverse backgrounds.

“Our Powerful Connections program plays an important role in successfully supporting students through the transition to university life through activities and programs that help to orient students of various backgrounds with an understanding of the academic experience and our campus,” said SU President Carolyn Ringer Lepre. “Ensuring SU is a welcoming place for all is at the core of our mission, and the Powerful Connections program helps students to forge the connections that help to set success in motion.”

According to Robby Chin, program administrative specialist in SU’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, many students leave the program with a mindset that helps foster relationships both on and off campus.

“Powerful Connections doesn’t exist just to ‘help’ students,” he said. “We don’t want them to just ‘have a good time.’ What we’re doing here is creating generational and systemic societal change.

“The Powerful Connections program achieves that by encouraging our students to value each and every human interaction. It changes the way they see, perceive, greet, speak with and treat people — not just their peers, but their faculty, staff and everyone they experience outside the SU campus.”

During her first week on campus, Brunson began seeing those changes.

“When I first got here, I felt like I wasn’t going to make any friends,” she said. “But by the third day, I’d made a whole bunch of friends. As soon as I got together with everybody, I felt so connected. It feels like we’re already a family.”

That’s literally the case in one instance. Brunson’s sister, Ayonna Brunson, is a Powerful Connections coordinator and a senior at SU. Three years ago, she was in her sibling’s shoes as a first-year student enrolled in the program herself.

“Powerful Connections helped me with getting connected,” she said, noting that, through the initiative, she learned about student organizations she later joined, including the Black Student Union and SU NAACP.

These provided her not only with friendships, but with a support system on campus during all four years at the University.

“As soon as I got involved, I was like, ‘Yes! I love it here,’” she said.

She also connected with other Powerful Connections mentees, which provided an additional level of support.

Upon her expected graduation next spring, the secondary education and mathematics major hopes to teach math, continuing a family tradition. Her and Amiyah’s mother, Dr. Undrea Blake, also pursued a career in education following her graduation from SU in 2005.

In late August, Blake briefly paused her own back-to-school duties as principal of Wicomico High School in Salisbury to serve as a guest speaker for this year’s record Powerful Connections cohort.

“Coming to SU was one of the greatest choices that I have made,” she said, noting that the University’s small class sizes, the approachability and reputation of its faculty, and the ability to meet new people easily on campus made her experience as a student ideal.

Despite changing her major once or twice, “I was able to find my niche here, and it worked out well,” she added.

Her advice for this year’s incoming students: “Get involved in the activities SU has. Meet new people. Learn how to network at an early age. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to ask for help because at some point we all need help to make sure we reach our goals.”

Zion Powell, a current Powerful Connections mentee from Denton, MD, took those words to heart.

“So far, it’s been a great experience,” said the first-year geography major, with a concentration in meteorology. “I’ve already found so many people I’d like to stay friends with, stay connected with, throughout my next four years here.

“I’m glad that I got the opportunity to come here and learn more about SU before classes started. Getting the opportunity to meet my dean, explore the campus and make some friends will allow me to have those ‘powerful connections.’ If I’m struggling in my courses. I know who I can call.”

Program mentors like Jahnaiya Sutherland, a sophomore data science major and honors student from Bowie, MD, is one of those people. This year, she looks forward to helping first-year students who are in a similar situation to herself when she began her academic career at SU in 2022.

“As a student coming to a school where you might feel out of place, Powerful Connections will make you feel right at home,” she said. “It has been extremely instrumental for me."

One of the benefits she received through the program last year was being introduced to minority campus leaders, who welcomed her and encouraged her to become involved. Going into her second year at SU, she is continuing to do that in a major way, serving as president of the SU NAACP and second vice president of the SU Multicultural Alliance.

She hopes to encourage this year’s Powerful Connections participants to become involved in similar ways, knowing that she and others are there to help them along the way.

“Being a mentor has allowed me to do the same thing for others that people have done for me: Be a leader who someone can come to and connect with,” she said.

Ayonna Brunson agreed. For next year’s first-time students considering the Powerful Connections program, she offered some straightforward advice: “Do it. It is a very awesome program.”

Learn more about SU and opportunities to Make Tomorrow Yours at the SU website.