Mentoring course a winning formula

Grad students in role of mentors to undergrads

It’s not often when two different groups of students can benefit by the same course, but that’s what is projected to happen every spring semester.

Graduate student Katie Dufault works with an undergraduate student as part of Default’s mentoring assignment in the student affairs administration and counseling class. Graduate students get experience for career positions like academic advisers and directors of residence halls, while for undergrads it’s an opportunity to talk through and correct academic issues or social challenges they are facing.

Graduate students in the student affairs administration and counseling class will take on mentoring roles when they are paired one-on-one with undergraduates who struggle academically. It’s a winning formula for both groups of students. Graduate students are able to fulfill a class assignment, while getting up-front experience for career positions such as academic advisers and directors of residence halls. For the undergrads, the relationship gives them an opportunity
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to talk through and correct any academic issues or social challenges they are having so they can stay in school. “The idea is to incorporate part of the learning component for the graduate students by having them work to improve the retention of students who struggle with their classes,” says Carla Anderson, student services coordinator for the college. The mentoring program takes place only in the spring because that’s when the graduate course in student personnel services is offered. It was successfully tested for the first time during the 2012 spring semester when 13 graduate students were lined up with 13 undergraduates. “The initial pilot test went very well,” says Anderson. “This mentoring relationship for our undergraduates was looking at their behaviors, what patterns can be changed. Maybe it was a matter of time management or a certain issue they were dealing with that semester

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— just trying to pinpoint why things aren’t going well.”

Five meetings for success

Ruth Harper, professor of counseling and human development, indicates her graduate students were eager to work with the undergraduates and appreciated implementing a positive approach. “Through building helping relationships and encouraging strength-based behaviors and activities, my students were able to work with these undergraduates to create practical academic success plans that, in some cases, may have made the difference in retaining the undergraduates at SDSU.” The graduate students are required to make contact with the undergraduates five times, including

at least two times face-to-face. The initial meeting is a get-to-know session, building a relationship and going over a solution-focused advising sheet. The second meeting focuses on academic success regarding class attendance, class performance (such as turning in assignments on time), communicating with teachers, overall satisfaction with the course and use of campus resources like the library or obtaining referrals for assistance. During the third meeting, talks center on life beyond the classroom. Undergrads are urged to get involved in at least one student organization. They are quizzed about their friendships and social life, along with wellness questions on sleep, nutrition and exercise. Graduates and undergrads co-create an individualized success plan in the fourth meeting. And, in the final session, undergrads are asked how things are going and if the plan is working or needs adjustment. Even though the required meetings are technically completed, grad students have the option of staying in touch with their advisee using a coaching approach that consists of sending encouraging emails or phone calls.

Plans for growing program

When it comes to grading the graduates, they are evaluated on the presentation of the success plan, which is shared in class. In addition, advisees are asked to assess the helpfulness and professionalism of the graduates. The initial mentoring assignment was a success, according to Anderson, who hopes to expand the program. “In theory, we could have more than one undergrad with a mentor — maybe two or three with each grad student,” she says. “It was nice, though, to have a small group to start it with and build the program. “It’s satisfying to let the undergrads know that if they are struggling that they aren’t alone, that there are resources out there in an effort to keep them going academically. “Some students who participated by having a mentor were able to improve their academic standing at the university. One undergraduate commented, ‘I had a great mentor. It was nice to talk with her about life and school.’”

Kyle Johnson

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