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Launched in 2014 by journalist Sean Baker, Med City Beat is an independent news source covering government, business and culture in Rochester, Minnesota.

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College advisor aims to empower students

College advisor aims to empower students

If there is one thing Chao Mwatela wants you to know, it’s that there is no replacement for a good education. Now a graduate student at Winona State University-Rochester, Chao is working on a capstone project focused on how to meet the needs of underrepresented students attending community college. The work has real-world implications, too. During the day, Chao works first-hand with students as a Multicultural Academic Advisor in the Office of Equity and Inclusion at Rochester Community and Technical College.

The work, both in class and in the office, has her searching for ways to improve the learning experience for students of all kinds of backgrounds. During her time on campus, the office has expanded initiatives to understand, mentor, and advocate for students.

That includes Student Leaders Creating Change, a program created in partnership with the Diversity Council, that aims to make the campus and community a more welcoming and inclusive place. There is also a multicultural student series that provides a safe and open-minded atmosphere for students to ask questions and open up about their experiences.

With each initiative, Chao says it’s important to not only think about how students look at the institution — but also whether the institution is ready to meet the needs of its students.

Originally from Kenya, Chao moved to the U.S. — first to Arkansas for college and then Florida to teach what were mostly migrant students. It was during her time teaching that she realized the gap between those in marginalized communities and everyone else — and began thinking of ways she could reach students in new ways.

Now an advisor, she carries those experiences with her, and combines them with what she has learned in the classroom, to create dynamic programming for students who now sit where she once sat. Oftentimes, things like being a first-generation student or a second-language learner can seem like deficits, but for Chao, she wants to show that they can actually be strengths.

“I can speak to them in a different way because I have that shared experience,” she says. “I tell them, ‘we can go through this together’ … I like being part of that journey with them.”

Chao says she has found advising to be her way having the biggest impact on students. And it’s a role she also hopes to expand upon as she completes her Masters in Organizational Leadership, with an additional completion of the Multicultural Education Certificate Program.

Chao says her experience at WSU-Rochester has empowered her to do thing she never thought possible. She says studying under Dr. Theresa Waterbury reinforced the importance of being a great listener and being flexible about meeting students where they are at. “She knows how to push you without making you quit,” Chao says of Dr. Waterbury.

Fueling Chao’s drive even more is her daughter (who she jokes is 11 going on 25.) “I want to do everything I can to ensure she’s getting the best.”

Published in partnership with Winona State University-Rochester

'It is the only way I can give back'

'It is the only way I can give back'