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Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?

Data show that peer mentoring increases retention and keeps students on the road to graduation.

September 13, 2018

students sitting together outside and wearing MSU Denver attire.We academics are a pretty smart bunch — but sometimes students couldn’t care less about the knowledge and wisdom we might be able to share. They want the lowdown from their peers.

Students share a common perspective and inherently trust the information shared with them by peers in the know. So how can we connect students to the other students who can help them?

Take a SIP of this: Peer Mentoring

In the context of higher education, peer mentoring involves a more experienced upper-class student (the mentor) supporting an underclass student (the mentee) in navigating the social, emotional or academic domains of the University. On contemporary campuses, peer mentors are formally trained student leaders who offer practical information and social-emotional support through defined and highly structured programs. This support is aimed at improving mentees’ success.  

Data show that peer mentoring in universities increases retention in the first year and beyond, and positively affects graduation rates. Mentoring programs have been proved to decrease time to graduation, thereby decreasing debt. Peer-to-peer support also helps to shrink equity gaps. Formal interaction with trained peer mentors further assists with the development of a “college-student identity” and sense of belonging.

In addition, there are many benefits to implementing a robust peer-mentoring program on campus.

  • Mentorship is a valuable form of on-campus engagement. Residential advisors in college dorms often provide the student-to-student support described above. At a commuter campus such as ours, peer mentors fill that role.
  • Peer-mentoring programs are valuable forms of on-campus employment. This meaningful work is considered a high-impact practice that develops a connection to the university and grows job skills for future employment. A strong peer-mentoring program will recruit and turn over valued student employees just like any other successful business.
  • Peer mentors can be trained to complement the work of professional staff, lightening the burden for overworked academic and student-affairs teams. This is especially helpful at a resource-challenged institution such as MSU Denver.
  • Peer mentors can be helpful with school, work and life skills. Peer mentors can offer a wide array of assistance when it comes to teaching a student how to make an effective PowerPoint presentation, helping them understand FAFSA or giving advice on where to find the cheapest, nicest apartments close to campus.
  • Peer mentors have their finger on the pulse of student life and can suggest good ideas for responsive programming.
  • Peers write and speak in the vernacular of students and can help effectively communicate important information, events, dates, deadlines, etc.

If you are a faculty member, consider inviting a peer mentor into your classroom to speak to your students about how they can connect. Five minutes of face time with a peer mentor can lead to increased engagement with the entire program — a great return on investment!

However, peer-mentoring programs are not without their potential problems. Some important considerations to keep in mind include:

  • Peer mentors are NOT professional faculty and staff. They should not be expected to perform at the level of professionals — they are still learning and need guidance from their supervisors.
  • To promote equity in access and outcomes, peer mentors should reflect the student body they represent. Students should “see themselves” in their mentors to envision the success they, too, can enjoy.
  • Although a certain level of confidence or intimacy is to be expected, peer-to-peer relationships in a mentoring program are intended to be professional. It is very important to strongly discourage or prohibit dating or interpersonal connections that may alter the mentoring relationship.
  • Mentoring relationships are intended to be mutually beneficial, meaning that mentors and mentees learn from each other. If you are working with peer mentors, encourage reflection activities from time to time to remind them that they are growing in this relationship just like the students they work with.
  • In the University setting, mentoring assumes the active support of the institution. Young people can often complain about certain aspects of the school (speaking negatively of faculty, campus offices, policies or practices, etc.). Remind mentors that they should speak positively of the institution and follow the appropriate channels and procedures of complaint if they have a problem.
  • Social media can be a killer for peer mentoring. Mentors should be discouraged from “friending” mentees and reminded to positively represent the school in their own social-media posts. No drinking, drug use, profanity, discriminatory viewpoints, etc., should be posted — especially from on-campus events or while wearing University apparel.

Still Thirsty? Take another SIP of Peer Mentoring

At MSU Denver, there are many small pockets of peer mentoring, usually associated with specific discipline- or identity-based programs. The Roadways Program hosts a Universitywide program of 70 peer mentors who are trained to support students from admissions to alumni.

Why Peer Mentoring is an Effective Approach for Promoting College Student Success.

Roles, Risks and Benefits of Peer Mentoring Relationships in Higher Education.

A Review of Undergraduate Mentoring Programs.

Student Perceptions of Benefits and Challenges of Peer Mentoring Programs: Divergent Perspectives From Mentors and Mentees.

Addressing the Stressful First Year in College: Could Peer Mentoring Be a Critical Strategy?

Visit The Well for more great ideas and resources for Strong Instructional Practices in your higher-education classroom!

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