Thursday, October 22, 2009

Getting Ready for Next Monday's Class Session

On the theme that in order to learn about what is happening inside your organization you have to look outside first, where the categories of things are more recognizable, I found some sites on other campuses about Peer Mentoring programs. The one from Reed College is interesting because Reed is a small, private, liberal arts school and you might envision that peer mentoring is not necessary there. (In the movie Declining by Degrees, Amherst College, another small liberal arts school, is depicted as a place that gets the approach to learning right.) The Reed program is targeted rather than across the board. The targeted population is comprised of students of color and first generation students. So I wondered whether we do targeted mentoring of some sort as well.

I already was aware of the Office of Minority Student Affairs, since instructors have to fill out mid-semester grade reports for students that office tracks and way back when I helped them with some technology deployment. Click on their Academic Service Tab and then their Structured Study Groups, which is quite similar to the notion I had in my blog about Inward Looking Service Learning, except that Minority Student Affairs utilizes grad students instead of undergrads to lead the groups.

I was unaware that the Campus had any particular program for first generation students. But searching the campus Web site leads you to the Counseling Center's page, and from there clicking on Educational Services one finds the Counseling Center Paraprofessional Program, which is an educational program for the paraprofessionals themselves and includes peer mentoring for the students the paraprofessionals assist. This mentoring program is aimed at students who are having difficulties.

Taking a little cue from the health care debate, where an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, it certainly seems to me a wiser use of resource to manage transition issues up front before they have a chance to fester. One place I found that seems to be doing that via mentoring is the University of Vermont. Note that this program is run out of their Alana Student Center, which might suggest some targeting like Reed. But their mentor and mentee applications make it seem as if the program is open to any student.

We, and I believe several of our sister Big Ten schools, are trying to address the transition issues via the University 101 Program, of which our class has heard mention specifically in regard to Business 101. This approach is different from mentoring. Here do note that some of the instructors in University 101 courses are not faculty but rather are Student Services types. (In Business 101, those people are from either the Office of Undergraduate Affairs in the College of Business or from Business Career Services.) Among faculty, there is some concern whether that sort of content should merit academic credit. I mention that mostly to highlight a divide between faculty and career services professionals on the importance of certain skills and dispositions.

Personally, the questions for me are a little different. They are:
1. Is mentoring, though more labor intensive, that much more effective than the University 101 Approach?
2. Does it matter who mentors the mentors, whether that is Career Services folks or Faculty?
3. Mentoring tends to be opt in. University 101 is required. Which is better on that score?
4. No matter which, are the approaches sufficiently intensive to accomplish their goals.
5. Does the need evaporate after the first semester or persist beyond that. If the latter, how should it be extended?
6. How do we know the answer to any of the prior questions? What information would we need to have an answer?

On Monday, I'd like to discuss for a while and then see if we can make teams, either the existing ones or new ones, each of whom will take a piece of this to research. I envision going till about 1:30 on this. We have no one-on-one interviews scheduled afterwards.

Also, I need a couple of minutes to talk about logistics for Movie Night.

1 comment:

  1. I thought that a comment I made to an anonymous poster has a lot to do with the questions asked in this post and what expectations we should or shouldn't have of the mentee; I thought I would post part of it below.

    You noted how it all needs to be on the mentee to seek out help. But see, only motivated students will do this. The motivated students all already the high achieving ones. Case in point, when we had the interview with the Deans they asked us to raise our hands how many different programs we got involved in. Almost all of us had our hands raised for something. The high achieving ones are normally the ones from privileged backgrounds, and don’t really need as much help as a student who comes into U of I unprepared. The biggest challenge to this project would be to reach out to those students who actually need help but for some reason or another don’t seek it out.

    Another difficult part of the project will be trying to step outside of the high achieving students that we are and trying to really understand what is holding some students back from getting the help that is available to them now, even without the mentoring program. Being a teaching assistant, I am often confronted with the reality that some students will not take advantage of the help that is offered to them. Why don’t they seek out the daily tutors available? 5 office hours a week? I don’t know, but part of me thinks is related to sociological issues. My point is here that there is more to students not utilizing help than their character.

    Professor Arvan recently mentioned this issue in his recent post about the project. He noted that most of the mentoring programs that existed are aimed to help minority students or students who are the first in their family to go to college. This further supports my idea that there are some sociological issues at play here, it is something that needs to be addressed and not simply thrown out as the mentee’s fault. How exactly though? I have no idea. In relation to the book The Tipping Point, what is going to make our mentoring strategy stick to reach the people who actually need it?