A Research Endorsed Approach...
The First Year Mentors program will be based on three major assumptions. The first assumption, peer mentors are able to increase the academic success and retention rates of mentored students, is based on extensive research (Colvin, J. W. & Ashman, M. 2010; Crisp, G. & Cruz, I. 2009; Thomas, S. L. 2000; Terrion, J. L. & Leonard, D. 2007). The second assumption, students are looking for a sense of belonging, was developed intuitively from personal experiences and from conversations with faculty, staff, and students. The current experience of CSB/SJU students is very effectively explained by the second assumption. At the heart of the academic issues of many students, is a set of negative behaviors shaped by this desire to belong to a group. The residential nature of CSB/SJU allows for very tight-knit groups to be formed, including relationships based on video games, alcohol and drugs. Students can develop poor study habits, poor time management, and a disinterest in academics and extracurricular activities out of these behaviors. These expected socio-cultural behaviors for young men and women work counter to the mission of the university: "to foster the vitality of community through learning" (College of Saint Benedict/Saint John's University [CSB/SJU] 2012). In order to increase the holistic success of first-year students, an intervention must take place to counter the formation of these negative communities.
Many informal mentoring opportunities currently exist on our campuses. Residential life staff, captains of athletic teams, club officers, orientation leaders, and student employment are a small sampling of groups that provide mentoring opportunities. However, these programs lack a formal mentoring component that is readily available to each and every member of the first year class. This leads to a breakdown of these mentors' ability to make personal connections with first-year students and ultimately failure to prevent poor student academic performance and withdrawal or dismissal from the college. Using evidence from research, peer mentoring will be able to succeed where other "informal" mentoring fails.
Peer mentoring provides broader and more diverse personal connections for students. These types of relationships directly impact retention rates and academic achievement (Thomas, S. L. 2000). In times of stress, students will be able to rely on their mentor for guidance and support, which can decrease student attrition rates (Terrion, J. L. & Leonard, D. 2007). The key to the success of peer mentoring over authoritarian mentoring is the intimate personal connection developed between participants; other types of mentoring are less able to develop this connection. Peer mentoring relationships do not need to occur of a long period of time or at a highly frequent interval to be effective either. Once students feel a strong relationship with their mentor, additional time spent together does not increase their satisfaction (Terrion, J. L. & Leonard, D. 2007).
The relational support structure of peer mentoring is not intended to replacing existing institutional structures. Rather this program is designed to enhance existing programs by connecting students with the resources they may need to be successful. The mentor is not a tutor, an academic advisor, or mental health counselor. Instead the mentor is present to listen to the needs of a student, to support the student during stressful situations, and refer the student to existing services. This process will lead to the desired goals of increased academic success, sense of belonging, and student retention.