Awwal Abass

Black Excellence at York University: Providing mentorship to help students grow

Like many first-year students, Awwal Abass was nervous but eager to find ways to connect with others across York’s campus and make new friends. His first year of the Law & Society program was during the COVID-19 pandemic, and he was looking to enhance his academic journey.

"One of the major factors that influenced my decision to choose York is because of the diversity embedded at the institution,” he says. “Through research I found out about opportunities for Black students at York, and learned all about the Black Excellence at York University (BE YU) program. I applied right away and was matched with a mentor."

BE YU provides Black students with support during their transition to university, through to graduation and beyond. Its mentorship program connects first-year and upper-year students in the same program, and also offers workshops, specialized events, academic advising and more, to champion the success of York’s Black student community.

Abass says his mentor was always there to listen and guide him throughout his journey at York, and BE YU connected him with resources within the University, including the Writing Centre, mental health and wellness coaches and scholarship and job opportunities.

"I took every workshop they offered to help build up my academic and professional skillsets,” he says. “By the end of the first semester, I was averaging A’s in my courses, and I received the Tom Janes Award for Black Scholars, which would fund my undergraduate studies."

Growing through mentorship

Abass says one of the most impactful aspects of BE YU has been the mentorship provided to students.

"BE YU contributed to my student success, they established a foundation for me," he says, adding that this inspired him to continue helping others across campus.

"I entered my first year as an individual who grew up in an environment where a small percentage of us pursued post-secondary education," Abass adds. "From where I began my journey when I was coming to York, to where I'm currently at right now, I believe the support of my professors, my mentors and my supervisors helped me to get there. Now what I'm trying to focus on is how I can appreciate this, and that is by giving back."

Abass progressed to become a Student Success Mentor Lead with BE YU in his third year and has been active as a student leader in the York community. He also serves as the president of York’s pre-law program chapter and as a peer mentor with the Atkinson Center for Mature and Part-time Students (ACMAPS).

He is continuing to pursue his goal of becoming a lawyer, and wants other students coming to York University to know that the future is bright.

"You are where you’re supposed to be right now," he says. "However, don’t fall back, make sure you fall forward. Because when you fall forward, other opportunities and great things are waiting for you."

Tips for connecting with mentors at York