The University of Utah's successful mentoring program, now in its third year, gives incoming students the opportunity to build a friendship with a faculty member.
This is something not easily achieved in a typical classroom setting. Usually, a relationship between student and teacher is either too formal or difficult at best, particularly in large classes.Results of a study show that students who sign up for the program have better overall experiences and easier transitions during their first year, so are less likely to drop out. Also, surveys show that faculty and students enjoy the mentoring experience.
However, many students are not taking advantage of the program, says Herta Teitelbaum, academic advising director, because many students are so busy with work or other activities that they leave campus as soon as classes are over.
"Faculty participation is not the problem," says Teitelbaum. "The faculty is wonderful. We're just disappointed in the lack of participation by students."
Each of the five major teaching colleges participating in the program has a mentor coordinator, usually the dean. And each department has several faculty volunteers. At least one college has full faculty participation.
Robert S. Olpin, College of Fine Arts dean, says mentoring supports something he really likes: getting to know a real individual.
"Mentoring has always appealed to me because it's direct and simple - it's real," Olpin says.
In fact, he thought it was so important that he used his prerogative as dean to send a letter to all fine arts faculty members congratulating them on their selection for the mentoring program without them necessarily having volunteered.
Olpin received names of six interested students to mentor. He eventually was able to contact four of them. One student's problem was easily resolved after Olpin arranged for assistance through the U.'s writing program. For another, it was mutually decided the student did not really need a mentor.
Two other students - an older student who wanted some direction and a science freshman - seemed to benefit the most, says Olpin. For them, the program proved not only helpful but continued year-round.
He describes the freshman as delightful and bright, someone who wanted a friend and some advice. Olpin initially introduced himself to the student at his nearby work place. The two have since had lunch together several times.
Students who want to participate in the mentoring program can sign up at the Academic Advising Center, 450 Student Services Building, weekdays between 8 a.m and 5 p.m.