First Year Mentor Program Helps to Increase Retention with Participants

By Shannon Houston

After five years in action, SOU’s First Year Mentor Program has seen a spike in participation that has helped to keep students at the university from one year to the next. The program is designed to bring student mentors together with first-year student mentees to help ease the transition into a university setting while simultaneously encouraging involvement on campus.

“It is something people are excited, especially parents, are excited to hear about,” said Jadon Berry, Coordinator for New Student Orientation and Success and Coordinator for the FYMP.

In its first year, the FYMP saw ten mentor-mentee pairs. Since 2009 the program has grown to having more than 78 pairs of students, yielding its largest turn out ever. The program focuses on building student-to-student relationships as well as encouraging ties between the first-year students and the rest of the SOU community.

The mentor-mentee pairs meet weekly, and they are encouraged to utilize campus events and programs as networking opportunities. It is also a requirement for mentors to introduce their mentees to at least one faculty member on campus to help build student-faculty relationships.

“The program is really designed to increase retention from the first year to the second year,” said Berry. “It’s designed around key components of engagement on campus.”

These areas of focus come from the results of the National Survey for Student Engagement conducted every two years which compares universities to one another to identify benchmark areas that could be improved. With the results of the most recent NSSE, the FYMP was able to identify how a mentoring program could be used to strengthen student engagement in the areas that SOU was lacking.

After assessing the program in the middle of last year, those with the FYMP were able to determine that their participants had surpassed those benchmarks, which indicated a potential higher rate of retention.

“Retention is measured fall-to-fall for freshman for the most part,” Berry continued. “This fall we ran the numbers on our students. Our freshman students retained about a ten-percent higher rate than their peers. It wasn’t statistically significant because we don’t have a high enough number of students, but it is pretty promising for us to continue the program.”

In addition to boosting retention of students within the program, the FYMP provides growth and leadership opportunities for those involved. For the first time this year, the program’s day-to-day operations are run by student coordinators, and Berry notes that many of the students within student government have been involved in the program at one time or another.

“It’s really kind of a springboard into some of the other leadership opportunities on campus, or it can just be an addition,” said Berry. “You know, we have a lot of education students who just like working and supporting students and so it’s just an additional thing for them.”

To recruit mentors for the program, the FYMP targets students within majors that are most likely to benefit from mentoring, such as education or communications. They also contact students on the Dean’s List, though anybody is encouraged to mentor if they are interested.

In terms of recruiting potential mentees, the FYMP has tabled at preview days and registration weekends as well as helping with freshmen moving into the dorms. The group has also been a part of club fairs in order to get the word out about their work.

“There’s so much evidence out there, research-wise to support mentoring on campus as a student success initiative,” said Berry. He hopes that the program will continue to grow in coming years, following in the footsteps of other successful mentoring programs at other universities.

Those interested in signing up for the FYMP can find out more here.

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