Mentoring Bridges Gaps for First Year College Students

By Vincent Bruno (LaGuardia Community College/CUNY)
Steve Dauz (LaGuardia Community College/CUNY)
David Getchlik (Empire State College/SUNY)


INDEX:


BACKGROUND RESEARCH

A student mentoring program is one of the interventions that can have a broad impact on a significant number of new students. This support system is especially crucial if the students come from a culture that is different from that in which the college exists. This transitional re-socialization process involves:

  • Dealing with culture shock
  • Language acquisition, and…
  • Internalization of academic, bureaucratic, and social norms, as well as…
  • The values and expectation of college life (Chaskes, 1996).

Without support, it’s no wonder that students are not retained in desirable numbers!
Research has found that students make the decision to leave college or change schools at some point during the first year, often within the first six to eight weeks of the first semester (Odell, 1996). According to Lang (2001), mentoring is one of the six broad categories of programs needed to enhance the retention of multicultural students on higher education campuses.


THE LAGUARDIA COMMUNITY COLLEGE MENTOR PROGRAM

LaGuardia Community College decided to use the strategy of a mentoring program to counter the challenges students face and to positively impact the decisions students make about staying in college. The Mentoring Program at LaGuardia Community College was established by the 1st Year Committee in January 2001. The intent is to provide a culturally diverse student population representing 167 countries with a personal contact on the campus for guidance and advice which helps acclimate and service their needs and thereby, to increase their success in college.

The original vision of the Mentoring Program was to establish a one-to-one relationship
for new students by connecting them to programs and services for their first semester at the college. All faculty and staff members who serve as mentors are volunteers and provide their services as a contribution to the college community.

Students are matched with mentors in a variety of ways, including:

  • Similar cultural and/or language backgrounds
  • By major and career interest.

As we enter our third year, the program continues to work towards connecting peer, faculty and staff mentors with new students. During this period, over 1500 students were matched with mentors to enable the mentees to begin their college career on a positive note. Overall, in excess of 4000 students have participated in various 1st Year activities.


PROGRAM REFINEMENTS TO DATE

In addition to mentoring, the First Year Committee has continued to refine and increase the impact of the program by adding the following program elements together to create a comprehensive experience for new students.

  • Mentoring students in Learning Communities
  • Opening Sessions
  • Common Readings
  • Helping high school graduates by easing their transition to college through the Summer Program
  • E-Portfolio
  • Utilizing peer mentors to act as role models for mentees on academic probation
  • An E-Mentoring service for all evening students

PREPARING MENTORS FOR THEIR WORK

The college offers a wide array of training for potential faculty, staff and peer mentors.

  • Training workshops are available for all faculty and staff who express an interest in being a mentor.
  • Training for peer mentors includes:
    • A three-credit “Mentoring: The Helping Hand” course
    • A four session workshop series,
    • An advance training series, and…
    • A soon to be developed on-line blackboard service.

Mentors are trained to be aware of stereotypes, understand diversity, identify learning disabilities, and to be self knowledgeable. Self knowledge is the most important intercultural competency for a mentor to possess. Those who become conscious of their own values and assumptions and critically examine them will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of their own behavior (Mezirirow, 1978).


PROGRAM EVALUATION

Trained peer mentors receive a stipend and are required to record and reflect on the results of their mentoring interventions. This ensures a means to assess the impact of the mentoring relationship in addition to monitoring quality control.

An assessment pilot has yielded preliminary results which affirms the positive impact of mentoring on mentees. Also, the assessment process has shown that students who receive mentoring are retained at a higher rate (18%) during their first year when compared to the students who did not participate in the program In addition, according to the findings of the 2002 ACT Opinion Survey, mentees report being more satisfied than other students in receiving assistance when entering the college. Students who received mentoring feel a sense of concern by the college as an individual and report feeling satisfied with the college in general.

Listed below is a glimpse of some of the students’ reflections on their mentoring experience captured by a qualitative research study of the Mentoring Program. Reflection is also used as a tool to help students realize their own progress, stay the course as students, and focus attention on relationships and learning (Zachary, 2000).

> “My mentor has been instrumental in my success during my first year of college. As an international student, the American college culture was entirely new to me and I felt like a “fish out of water”. The advice and counsel I received allowed me to stay focused as a student. I have been on the Dean’s List for my first two semesters and I am looking forward to being on it for the rest of my college life.” – Student from the West Indies

> “Since I was given a Mentor my GPA has increased tremendously. I hope I will be able to work with my mentor throughout my college career. He helped me academically as well as in my personal affairs”. – Student from China

Besides delivering a strong impact on mentees, positive statements from mentors reinforce the view that the program is a success.

> “I found that being a mentor enabled me to play a positive role in the student’s first semester at LaGuardia. It allowed me to help the mentee understand the policies and procedures of the college.” — LaGuardia Faculty

> “Mentoring is a golden opportunity to meet and help students as they begin their journey at LaGuardia. The knowledge that you can make a difference is enormously satisfying. Each new student that I work with gives me a chance to grow and learn too.” — LaGuardia Staff Member

In addition to our own evaluation, LGCC and the Mentoring Program have received external recognition. LaGuardia Community College has recently been recognized as one of the top 13 colleges awarded the Institution of Excellence Award 2002 from The Policy Center on the First Year of College.


THE FUTURE OF THE PROGRAM

The Mentoring Program will continue to address the obstacles that culturally diverse students have traditionally faced with respect to uncertain funding resources, retention and persistence, and academic and social integration. Grant opportunities will provide the needed funding to offset cost factors involved in facilitating the mentoring program. Retention efforts will be strengthened by having mentors help entering 1st year students make meaningful connections to the college and their academic programs. In addition, mentors provide an avenue for our multicultural student body to integrate into our diverse college community.

Blake, Saufley, and Cowan (1973) discuss the “ultimate doom” syndrome. For many minority and first generation students, there are subtle and sometimes more overt messages that some students are not expected to succeed. The feelings frequently become even stronger as the students approach graduation. Therefore, mentoring efforts need to continue into the second year and beyond.

The future direction of the Mentoring Program is to help bridge First Year Programs to Second Year initiatives at the college. This seamless road needs to address the disparities students feel after their 1st year. The initial sense of euphoria created by the 1st year programs need to mature into personal satisfaction and realistic on-track goals for graduation.

Other future directions will include the expansion of our Mentor Training Program by incorporating leadership skills and diversity awareness components. Also we will explore the utilization of technology in order to enhance E-mentoring and to extend services to include the continuing student population that have been identified as academically at- risk. Finally, recruitment of alumni mentors who will focus on graduating students with respect to transfer and career goals will round off this comprehensive Mentoring Program.


References

Lang, M. (2001). Student Retention in Higher Education: Some Conceptual and Programmatic Perspectives. Journal of College Student Retention Vol. 13 num. 3224-225.

Chaskes, J. (1996). The First-Year Student as an Immigrant. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience and Student Transition, 8(1), 79-91.

Odell, P.M. (1996). Avenues to Success in College: A Non-Credit Eight Week Freshman
Seminar. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience, 8, 19-92.

Zachary, L. J. (2000). To everything there is a Season. The Mentor’s Guide, 56.

Mezirow, J. “Perspective Transformation.” Adult Education, Feb. 1978.

Schreiner, L. A. and Pattengale, Jerry (2000). Visible Solutions for Invisible Students: Helping Sophomores Succeed. Monograph Series # 31.

Blake, H.J., Saulfley, R.W., and Cowan K. (1973). The Struggles of Minority Students at Predominately White Institutions.