STEM Mentoring Pilot Program for First Generation Students and Project Innovate

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  • Theresa Grove #71

    I recently sent an email to various people across campus to gauge interest in my idea of developing a mentoring program that could help attract and retain 1st generation college students in the STEM programs. This would be a pilot program that could be scaled up to include first generation students in all departments across campus if it was successful, and a STEM mentoring program for 1st generation students is something that I think our students would find helpful. This is not a tutoring program (although connections with the Student Success Center would be included in this program), but would hopefully help the students and their families feel more comfortable about coming to college and would help them navigate through their first year at VSU. Currently, the support for 1st generation students appears to be lacking across campus, and this type of program may help the students build strong relationships with other students, faculty and staff and increase the likelihood of success in classes, which could lead to increased retention and graduation rates.

    Some possible ideas include, but are not limited to:

    1) Living and learning community with the RAs being 1st generation college students in a STEM discipline. There could be activities and programs designed to help foster relationships between other first generation students, but also other students in the STEM majors. I also wouldn’t want to leave out the 1st generation students who are living at home and commuting to VSU, so while a living/learning community may be useful, it wouldn’t impact commuter students so other programs would have to be developed to reach out to the commuter students. Some programs could include study skills, how to find internships and directed study opportunities, even how to explain what you do in college to parents and other family members when you see them during breaks, how to plan a program of study for your college career, what a person can do with specific degrees (many times students do not know about the diversity of jobs that exist and how to prepare for these jobs), and even how to talk to faculty members (we are human too, or at least most of us are).
    2) Pair 1st generation college students with an upper level student and a faculty member in that STEM discipline who could act as mentors. A student may feel more comfortable asking another student who went through the same experiences. The faculty member (or other staff) might be a point of contact to answer questions regarding program of study, financial aid, work study, internships, summer programs, graduate schools etc. for both the student and perhaps also the parent because college will be new to both.
    3) Develop special orientation sessions during the summer that are geared more towards 1st generation college students and their parents in their chosen department to introduce them all into the expectations of college life and succeeding in a STEM discipline (study skills, workloads, etc), but also talk about possible opportunities available (e.g. internships, directed study). Many times the parents may not know about some of these opportunities or what college life is like because they didn’t go, and it is brand new to both the families of the students and to the students.
    4) Develop a relationship with the Student Success Center and Centralized Advising (and it might make sense to include the Access Office and Counseling Center too) to help ensure the students do well in their courses.
    5) As far as budget goes, I think it would be fair to request stipends for both the student and faculty mentors for the pilot. This would be an additional workload added onto the faculty mentor’s “normal” teaching load, research and service. In addition, it may be reasonable to request stipends during summer 2016 for participating faculty who spend the majority of their time during these summer months developing this program. There would also be costs associated with orientation programs and programs for students during the academic year that may include travel for students for field trips or visiting speaker fees.
    6) The timeline would be up for discussion/development because a functional program is tied into a) developing the specifics of the program, b) identifying, inviting, and recruiting 1st generation students to participate (sending out this information with the acceptance letter would be helpful, and I’m not sure the timeline of when the university sends out acceptance letters and when students have to reply and sign up for housing) c) recruiting and hiring undergraduate mentors. This program may have a 2 year timeline with the first year focusing on development, advertisement and recruitment with the 2nd year the implementation followed by assessment. During the first year data could also be collected from current first generation college students to help figure out what is needed, and also to look at retention, changing majors, academic probation, etc. of these first generation students. Because it would involve surveys, it may be necessary to go through the IRB for human subjects.

    Anyway, if you are interested in discussing this idea and might be interested in participating, please reply back to me (, and I will contact all interested parties shortly after Friday, October 16 to schedule a first meeting. If you have already responded to my initial email, you do not need to respond again. You will (obviously) not be under any obligation to participate by responding. I envision that as we go along there will be the opportunity for faculty and staff to be involved in this program as much (or as little) as they want (and have time they can share). Currently, I am trying to gauge interest across campus, and in order for a program like this to be successful, many individuals and units would have to be involved. There are programs for 1st generation students at many universities so we do not have to reinvent the wheel, and I am currently looking for evidence that shows whether or not this type of program is successful at not only recruiting and retaining students, but also helping 1st generation students succeed.

    Please let me know if you have any questions and share this with anyone who may be interested. I will be periodically checking this forum. Thanks in advance. I look forward to hearing from you.

    Kathleen Lowney #72

    If you (or anyone) wants to have a meeting over at The IDEA Center, please fill out this form, so that I can see if there is an available room and then reserve it for you.

    Theresa Grove #90

    I have scheduled our first planning meeting for Wednesday, November 4 at 1:00pm. I have reserved the biology conference room in Bailey Science Center Conference Room on the 2nd floor (room 2023).

    Feel free to pass this email along to anyone you think may be interested. At this meeting I hope to begin to figure out what to include (or not include) in a pilot mentoring program for 1st generation students majoring in STEM disciplines. I have some ideas, but I welcome all of your input! I will also share some of the data I’ve found about the benefits of this type of program. Let me know if you have any questions ( or 333-5336.

    See you then.

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