Who knows better what a College of Education freshman faces than someone who just successfully completed his or her first year in the College?
That’s the idea behind a program that pairs every freshman in Eastern Kentucky University's College of Education with an upperclassman peer mentor, in many cases a student who participated in the program as a freshman. Simultaneously, incoming freshmen are able to register for up to four sections of courses with fellow College of Education majors, thereby building community as a cohort.
By all indications, the program is achieving the desired results. Since its launch on a much smaller scale three years ago, the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate has risen from 77.9 percent to 83.1 percent, according to most recent data.
“We’re hearing lots of positive feedback from the mentors and the freshmen,” said Dr. Ryan Wilson, the College’s program director for student success. “Our mentors were freshmen, too, so they’ve experienced the bumps in the road. I think we have to do everything we can to be sure a support system is in place for every student.”
Fifty-three mentors have volunteered their time to assist more than 200 freshmen this fall. Besides matching majors, every effort is made to match home counties. Mentors meet with their mentees on at least a monthly basis, connect in various other ways, and are available for advice anytime.
Caitlyn Tucker, a sophomore communication disorders major, is one of those students to have seen the program now from both sides now.
“My peer mentor helped me make a huge step in my schooling and was always there to help me if I needed it with anything,” Tucker said. “I chose to be a peer mentor because I wanted to impact a pre-Communication Disorders student in the way that my peer mentor helped me. College is such a huge financial commitment and there should not be a time when someone is helping them use every resource available to them.”
Likewise, when the call went out for peer mentors, sophomore education major Olivia Bivins knew she had to get involved.
“I wanted to give back to the freshmen who are somewhat worried about the transition from high school into college, along with the stress that comes with applying to the program,” Bivins said. “I feel as though this experience has allowed me to provide useful advice and help other students because I was in their shoes not too long ago. I was fearful of the steps and requirements that I needed to complete, on top of my regular homework and other commitments, and I believe it’s been reassuring to let them know they are not alone in this process.”
Mentor Erin Sexton, also a mentee in the program last year, said the most satisfaction “came from knowing that no matter how stressed or emotional I got, there was always someone there for me. Now, it’s my job to give back and make sure my mentees receive that same type of feeling.”
Of course, Tucker, Bivins, Sexton and their fellow mentors are also getting an early start on their future careers.
“A lot of them will be teachers or in some type of mentoring role,” Wilson noted, “so they’re getting some real-world experience.”
Meanwhile, the freshmen are getting to know each other well as they take many of their classes together – an important advantage, according to Wilson.
“If you feel connected to a group, you’re more likely to succeed and persist in your education,” he said.