Advising/Mentoring Network takes offTweet
Approximately 1,100 new students and more than 100 faculty and administrators are taking part in a new initiative that connects students with mentors and resources on campus — just one aspect of the Advising/Mentoring Network being established from a recommendation of the President’s Task Force on Undergraduate Education for the Digital Generation.
“There was a campus-wide sense that we needed to work on this,” said Donald Loewen, vice provost for undergraduate education, who also chaired the task force. “Connections between faculty and students are essential to establishing students’ long-term identity with their undergraduate institution, and we want to help students make those connections as early in their time at Binghamton as possible.”
Invitations to participate in the pilot Faculty Mentoring Program were sent randomly to new transfer and freshman students, Loewen said, offering an opportunity to “opt in,” More than 900 jumped at the chance to be matched with a faculty mentor. The remaining students in the program are either in HARP 101 classes whose faculty have volunteered to mentor them, or are President’s Scholars, who are being mentored by the president, vice presidents, deans and faculty masters.
Mentors also opted in and were asked which students they would prefer to mentor — within their discipline or school, only freshmen or only transfers or both. “We had a good distribution of faculty and choices and the same distribution of students who opted in,” said Jeff Barker, associate professor of geological sciences and chair of the team implementing task force recommendations. “The assignments worked out very well.”
Each mentor was matched with no more than 10 students. “The vast majority of mentors are working with mentees who are in their school or division, and many have students who have expressed an interest or plan to major in the mentor’s field,” Loewen said.
Each mentor was also provided background information on his/her mentees, suggestions on how to effectively reach out to them, a list of resources available to them, a chance to meet with other mentors before the semester began and information about the mentor’s role.
“Part of our recruiting and discussing with mentors was to explain to them what they are not,” said Barker. “We already have academic and departmental and major advisors, and other pieces to the campus advising network. Faculty mentors are meant to provide human contact and offer wisdom based on their experience as faculty.”
“We’re trying to help both students and faculty mentors see the difference,” said Loewen, “by carefully defining what faculty contributions are and are not, and by giving them resources to steer students to the appropriate places for additional support. It’s important for mentors to realize they’re not on their own but that there are many resources for students.”
“We describe the faculty mentor role as seeing students this first semester and then helping them find the next step in their advising network,” said Barker. “Then the major advisor becomes primary, and mentors may maintain a friendly relationship, but their real active role is right at the beginning.”
Mentors were asked to make initial contact with their mentees early in the semester to have the biggest impact, since the first month on campus is crucial for new students. James Pitarresi, distinguished professor of mechanical engineering, did just that.
“I sent out a welcoming e-mail to my seven mentees and suggested a few meeting dates for a casual conversation,” he said. “I’m sitting here in a brand new building and I promised them a tour.”
All of Pitarresi’s mentees are interested in engineering, and two of them made it to his first meeting. “We sat around and talked about their transition to Binghamton, how their classes are going, are they getting along with their roommates,” he said. “We did a tour and talked about engineering and why they’re interested in it and what their goals are. I tried to help them think along those lines and about careers and graduate school.
“It broke down the barriers and they were floored by the facility,” said Pitarresi. “It was also a chance for them to ask about the [mechanical engineering] curriculum. I think they had a great experience — and they got to take the leftover pizza with them!”
Pitarresi sent out another note to all of his mentees recapping that first meeting and plans to touch base with them again in late October.
Barker and Loewen hope the mentor program will continue and grow, adding both mentors and students in the future. “Because this is a pilot and we didn’t know how many students could be involved, we really didn’t bring it up at Orientation in the summer,” Barker said. “Seeing the interest this year, we can learn from this first attempt and hopefully improve things next year. If we grow our mentor pool, we can add a significant amount to the number of students who opt in.”
In addition to the mentor program, Barker and the implementation team he is leading are working with Information Technology Services to develop a software program that will allow students to track everyone in their advising and mentoring network at Binghamton.
“It has to be viewable from the student’s perspective so they can identify the people who can help them academic progress,” Barker said.