Posted August 13, 2015 by Beth Waltrip 

The Rewards of Mentoring Student Employees

It is not uncommon for student affairs professionals to hold informal mentor roles with student employees and graduate assistants, but The University of Akron has taken it a step farther. There, a formal mentor program is required of all student managers and is offered as a perk to any student employee. Mentorship_Sign_Wide

The mentor program pairs the student with a full-time staff member or graduate assistant—the student indicates their top three preferences from a binder with biography information about all of the staff—and the pair is expected to meet for half an hour per week or one hour biweekly. They generally are paired with their first choice, as long as that staff member has open mentor slots and is not the student’s direct supervisor. The student signs an academic plan for the semester listing their class load and a grade goal for each class they are taking.

The mentors talk with the students about their academic progress; any concerns or issues they are having in class, at work, or just in general; and serve as sounding boards, emotional support, and as a resource for the students. Some first-year students stay with the program for their entire academic career and keep the same mentor for the entire time.

Regular reviews (limited to upper staff only) of the students’ GPAs each semester have shown that employees in the mentor program typically have higher semester and cumulative GPAs than the employees who do not participate in the mentor program—and they even do better compared to the campus population as a whole.

A student employee who receives a GPA of 2.0 or lower in any semester can participate in the mentor program for a minimum of the next semester or until their GPA improves. The university requires a minimum cumulative GPA of 2.0 in order to work on campus, so it is to both staff and the student’s advantage to work with them to try to improve their grades.

Over time, the program has continued to demonstrate success, as students who may have struggled in their first semester or year in college have persisted and blossomed academically and personally. Many student employees are first-generation college students who may not have the academic support or even a realistic expectation of the rigors of college life when they enter. It is so rewarding to see them a few semesters or years later as they proudly graduate and move on to the next chapter of their lives.

A celebration at the end of each semester recognized graduating student employees, and recently, the number of those students who made the Dean’s List or achieved a 4.0 GPA was the highest ever; 11 out of 115 student employees graduated with a 4.0, and almost a third were on the Dean’s List. The mentor program only takes a few hours per week out of any staff member’s time at work, but the benefits are outstanding and help create truly rewarding relationships. And after all, isn’t that why we do what we do?

Beth Waltrip

Beth Waltrip is the Associate Director, Student Union Operations at The University of Akron.

Beth is responsible for oversight of the game room, operations, and technology areas, as well as advising Undergraduate Student Government. She received her master’s degree in higher education administration from Florida State University and volunteers with ACUI on the Education Council.

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