May 18, 2005

Program connects students with mentors

Navigating through the complex maze of college life can be tricky, but there is a program that can help students find their way a little easier. The Faculty Student Mentor Program connects faculty and peer mentors with students to help them survive the demands of being a student.

Students are matched with faculty and peer mentors by academic major, with one faculty mentor representing each of the Colleges. The programs are tailored for the needs and culture of each College.

Marie Torregrosa, coordinator of the Faculty Student Mentor Program, says the program helps form communities between the faculty and students, and also increases retention rates for the University.

The program is geared towards low-income and first-generation students, who are generally in their second-year or are new transfer students. Torregrosa says they designed it for second-year students because typically students that will drop out of college do so in the first few years. The program has had a high success rate, with nearly 80 percent retention rates.

Faculty Student Mentoring offers one-unit classes taught by faculty mentors to help students develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary to complete their academic goals and enable them to become peer mentors and leaders. There are about 100 students enrolled in the voluntary program, and organizers are looking to recruit more participants.

Sjeonshal Coleman, a senior recreation and leisure studies major and peer mentor for the College of Health and Human Services was once part of a mentor program at another college and says the class helped her to become a leader.

"We offer advice on how to survive college," Coleman says. "We help them learn about the various opportunities on campus, such as organizations and clubs, to help them make connections outside of class. Each peer mentor has different experiences and perspectives about college that students can relate to. We give them the tools to create good habits and stay involved, and become leaders themselves."

Peer mentor Benicia Williams, a senior kinesiology major, says that sometimes the students come by just to talk about problems, both personal and academic. Both Williams and Coleman consider themselves to be "big sisters" to the students they mentor. "We're not just mentors, we're friends," Williams says

The students meet with their mentors on a regular basis and participate in workshops and activities planned by their mentors. Torregrosa says it is not unusual for students to establish a connection with their faculty mentor and continue to work with them after their participation in the program ends.

Kathy Martinez, the faculty mentor from the College of Health and Human Services, tries to vary the curriculum in her class because she has had students choose to take it more than once. In her classes, she incorporates topics such as information about financial aid, career advice, stress management, personality assessments and how to manage a budget.

The program also provides funds for the classes to do a cultural activity. In the past, Martinez has organized outings such as seeing a movie or a play. Martinez also offers a community service component in her classes so the students can do volunteer work.

The faculty members also serve as advocates for the students, helping with papers, bringing in speakers and offering cultural activities. The mentors offer career and academic advice, and provide referrals to advisors within the departments and professional academic organizations.

Faculty members or students that would like more information about the program or how to participate can call 278-7332.

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