No matter what you do at Augustana, I hope you found some time to get away and recharge over the break. Now that we are all back for the winter term, I’d like to introduce a new feature of Delicious Ambiguity that has no plan other than knowing that it will happen from time to time starting today. (I can’t undermine the title of the blog by imposing some sort of precisely organized plan, right?). There are a number of folks on campus who have conducted interesting and thought-provoking studies of our students’ experience. This work needs the chance to be highlighted and shared broadly. So without further ado, here is a post from Dr. Brian Leech from a study he conducted last year.
Guest Post by Brian Leech
Our college employs a number of students who provide mentorship to their peers, especially first-year students; yet, these mentors tend to get overlooked when we talk about the first-year experience. Many faculty in particular often know very little about how these programs can help students adjust to college. Each program either assists a specific segment of the student population or it helps the general student population in a specific way.
Here is a brief run-down of some mentoring programs available on campus:
Peer Mentors: Work with faculty to help first-year students adjust to life at Augustana.
Global Ambassadors: Help newly-arrived students from other countries with culture shock.
Multicultural Ambassadors: Help students who often have trouble connecting to the Augustana community.
ACI/Chicago Network: Small group works with students from Chicago to help with adjustment.
Community Advisors: Coordinate programming at residence halls, provide emergency assistance, and perform many mentoring activities, including referrals and informal peer counseling.
Career Ambassadors: Help students with resumes and assist with career programming.
Reading/Writing Center Tutors/Fellows: Assist students with academic reading and writing. The campus also hosts a growing number of tutors in other subjects.
Admissions Ambassadors: Provide campus tours, help visitors, host overnights, and assist with visit days. Often essentially serve as mentors before students are even enrolled.
Interviewing both the people who manage these programs as well as a number of students involved left me impressed. The fact that some students devote so much of their own time to helping their peers is quite admirable. Although the college does typically pay them too, which I’m sure is a factor, but it’s not like these are particularly easy jobs. Students performing peer-mentoring duties are on the front lines of campus inclusion. Joining a majority-white community, for instance, often serves as a shock to many incoming students. The same can be said for international students arriving in the Midwest. No matter their background, many, if not all, undergraduates struggle to adapt to increasing academic expectations. Mentors who do some campus jobs, such as serve as math tutors or as writing fellows for first-year classes, can therefore be of great importance to students and the faculty who teach them.
Yet these mentoring programs can also use a boost. Below are the top three areas for improvement, as identified by the people involved.
Problem: Lack of knowledge. Many people across campus simply don’t know what mentoring programs are available to students, whether students they know are in a particular mentoring program, or what the different mentoring programs do. Therefore, students who could really benefit from this help are often not getting it in time. Better information sharing across campus can fix this problem.
Problem: Over-committed student mentors. Student mentors tend to be over-involved and sometimes don’t see their mentoring duties as a priority. We therefore need to improve students’ connection to and belief in their group’s mission. In other words, mentor positions should seem as vital to the student experience as they actually are. Certainly praise can help, but faculty, staff, and administrators can do more. Faculty, for instance, could partner with certain mentoring groups, help with on-going professional development, or assist student leaders within each group.
Problem: Training. Many of the above groups provide extensive training to mentors before the academic year begins. Once the year starts, however, little time exists for busy students to squeeze in further professional development. It is therefore worth exploring how the college can create and better support training that is accessible, useful, and compelling. Would an online module help? A workshop that involves joint faculty-staff-student training in mentorship?
As our college tries to improve students’ first-year experience, we should keep in mind the many student mentors who sometimes have as much, if not more than, an effect on incoming students’ lives as faculty, staff, and administrators.
Thanks, Brian. This is an excellent example of one way that we could take advantage of existing programs to more fully integrate our students’ learning experience instead of adding something new.
If you’ve conducted a study of our students that you think the campus should know about, send me an email or meet me for coffee. I’d love the chance to share your work with the rest of the Augustana community.
Make it a good day,