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McPherson College Receives Grant to Match Peer Mentors with Freshmen College Students

posted Sep 14, 2011 in ACADEMICS

For any college or university, the first year of college is the most critical in ensuring a student continues their education and graduates.

McPherson College’s retention of its freshmen currently tracks with the national average among similar institutions. But a new program is aiming to help the college go beyond average and help the first-year freshmen students who are most likely to leave college.

Serve 2 Succeed Corps, or S2S, will match them to a peer mentor who can help them connect in academics, social life and service learning. With students more than five times more likely to stop their education in their first year than at any other time in their college career at the college, the program targets a critical time to help students succeed and graduate. S2S is being made possible starting in the fall of 2011 with a grant from Kansas Campus Compact, funded by AmeriCorps.

“We believe in you as students, but not all of us have the same position of privilege when we start,” said Dr. Kent Eaton, provost. “The program increases the likelihood that students who begin behind the starting line can run the race and run the race well.”

The grant provides funding for up to 12 student mentors to receive an annual stipend of up to $1,500 for the 300 hours expected from them every year in the program, as well as a scholarship award of up to $1,175. Each mentor will be matched with up to four freshmen, allowing 48 students to receive the kind of help and guidance that will help them succeed at McPherson College. The mentees will be identified by admissions information, such as ACT score, first-generation college students and information on the FAFSA; the College Student Inventory, which identifies multiple areas that affect student success; and students’ performance in college classes.

Matthew Lindsey, executive director of Kansas Campus Compact, said McPherson College stood out because of its detailed plans of how to identify students for mentoring.

“It showed that McPherson College is already invested in tools to help student retention,” Lindsey said.

The mentors will provide tutoring, ensure that mentees are involved in at least one co-curricular or extra-curricular activity – such as clubs, athletics, performing arts, service clubs or a study group – get the students involved in a service project, and help the mentee develop an academic plan. Lindsey said the civic engagement aspect gave students ownership in a community, greatly improving a student’s likelihood to stay in college. At the same time, the community benefits, too.

“Our communities need help,” Lindsey said. “And if we can mobilize students to do some meaningful work together, we’re going to be able to meet more of our community needs.”

The purpose of the program is to increase the level of student retention in the first year and to raise the level of civic engagement through volunteer service.

“The experience in the first year will determine whether they return to this college or any college,” Dr. Eaton said. “We want to ensure student success – to the degree that we can – from the get-go.”

Tom Hurst, director of campus service, will act as the service director for the program, while Carole Barr, associate director of the Royer Center for Academic Development, will serve as the program coordinator. Barr said that she’s seen students benefit greatly from a mentor – as someone to help guide them through unfamiliar territory. In a more limited mentoring program already on campus, Barr said she’s seen the relationship extend even beyond graduation.

“Getting those first-year students set up with the support they need from the beginning, giving them that roadmap, isn’t just going to help them stay in college, it will also help them to graduate,” she said.

Emilee Reinert, junior, Tipton, Kan., said that when Barr approached her about being a mentor, she was excited about the opportunity and said to sign her up right away. She expects the program to help incoming freshman to feel more connected to both the college and the community.

“I think it’s important for freshmen to realize service is fun,” Reinert said. “It’s getting them out there; getting them to interact with the community. When you serve, it’s a great feeling to know something simple you do can change someone’s life. When you’re a freshman coming in, you realize that one person can make a difference.”

Dr. Eaton said that overall, the program will focus on helping students reach their goals.

“If the student doesn’t graduate,” Dr. Eaton said. “Then the hope that they will be able to follow their dreams and get the kind of employment they desire begins to dissipate.”

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