The University of Arkansas at Monticello has received a federal grant to establish the an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) project.


Each year, the UAM VISTA grant will provide for hiring four VISTA team members who commit to one year of service. VISTA members must have earned a bachelor’s degree, but are not required to have attended UAM, according to a news release.


UAM is one of five new AmeriCorps VISTA programs in the Arkansas Delta region. UAM VISTA is seeking applications for VISTA members, which can be completed at AmeriCorps.gov/VISTA . The deadlines for the UAM project are May 17 and June 14.


Project goals are to increase the rate of high school graduates who attend college or technical programs, through mentorship of students and families in seven southeast Arkansas counties.


“We’re very excited to be part of the impact the project will have on these seven counties,” said UAM chancellor Karla Hughes. “Our region has very high poverty rates and low rates of college attainment. When you don’t have parents or friends who have seen success in higher education, you’re not as likely to attend yourself, or you may not even know where to start.”


In the first year, AmeriCorps VISTA members at UAM will travel to 16 schools in Southeast Arkansas to visit with high school students and their parents. VISTA members will help students identify and overcome their roadblocks to applying to and attending college, according to the release.


Benefits to serving as a VISTA member include bi-weekly paychecks, a health care allowance, optional room and board plans, state vehicle use, federal non-competitive eligibility status, and an educational award option at the end of their service year.


AmeriCorps is a network of national service programs that aim to improve lives and foster civic engagement. One of the areas VISTA targets is increasing academic achievement, the subject of the UAM project, according to the release.


In the fall, UAM applied for funding for AmeriCorps VISTA, which is overseen by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNS), a federal agency. The UAM application outlined opportunities to improve higher educational attainment in Southeast Arkansas.


“On a campus, you have a hub of resources; they work closely with local governments and K-12 school systems,” said Ben Olsen, the CNS Arkansas state program director. “Each project requires a lot of synergy throughout the community. UAM is well-positioned to create that synergy, which is one of the many reasons their application was selected.”


Olsen explains that universities are in a prime position to recruit for VISTA projects because of their contact with seniors or recent graduates seeking employment.


“It’s a great post-graduation pathway for students,” he said. “VISTA offers meaningful skill-development for volunteers, while serving the communities these students are already living in,” Olsen said.


For more information about AmeriCorps, the Arkansas CNS Program Office can be reached at ar@cns.gov . For information about the UAM VISTA project, contact Emily Ashley at 870-460-1762 or AshleyE@uamont.edu or contact Roberta Thomas at 870-460-1453 or ThomasR@uamont.edu.