Freshmen Learn Ropes from Mentors in Academic Excellence Program
Feb. 12, 2014
For freshmen, it helps to have friends who can show them the ropes of campus life.
Devika Pillay (left) is a mentor to Lucinda Su in the Freshman Mentor Program. Both are biology students. Participants often choose to be paired with mentors based on an academic major or personal interest.
Students who receive an Academic Excellence Scholarship (AES), have the opportunity to be paired with a fellow student who is already doing well academically and active in campus life.
The Freshman Mentor Program's goal is to help new freshmen assimilate more quickly and securely, said Hillary Campbell, program coordinator.
“They’re not left to flounder and to figure out things on their own,” Campbell said. “If they feel socially connected — with a built-in friend — it helps them feel more comfortable on campus.”
Making College Transition Smoother
The Office of Undergraduate Education initiated the mentor program in fall 2012. That first year, 75 mentors guided 127 freshmen. In fall 2013, nearly twice as many participated, with 164 mentors and 237 freshmen.
AES Scholarship recipients are selected based on SAT or ACT scores, class rank, high school GPA, success in honors or AP coursework or dual-credit courses, as well as extracurricular and other leadership activities.
But they still can use a little support in making the transition from high school to college.
“It’s been nice to talk to someone with a few years of college experience behind him. My mentor’s kind of a role model for me. He has a 3.97 GPA, and yet he’s still striving to improve that.”
Victor Nguyen, an electrical engineering freshman, said the opportunity to have a mentor was one of the key attractions of the AES Scholarship program. He was paired with a senior business major when he arrived on campus last fall.
“I wanted a mentor who would help me get used to campus. There were just some things I wasn’t sure of,” Nguyen said. “In high school, I didn’t have to study so hard. I knew I’d have a lot more free time in college and would need to buckle down and focus.”
His mentor, John Chang, told him to not squander time playing games between classes and to “go the extra step” by talking to his professors and teaching assistants, Nguyen said.
Now in his second semester at UT Dallas, Nguyen said he feels much more confident and at home on campus.
“It’s been nice to talk to someone with a few years of college experience behind him,” Nguyen said. “My mentor’s kind of a role model for me. He has a 3.97 GPA, and yet he’s still striving to improve that.”
Great Leadership Opportunity for Mentors
Staff in the Office of Undergraduate Education select upperclassmen “who are on our radar” to be mentors, Campbell said. They include students who already participate in volunteer projects on campus or who are looking for leadership opportunities.
Students can be paired with mentors based on academic majors or personal interests. Most pick someone with the same academic interest, but sometimes students who share the same major have nothing else in common; having another option helps produce better matches, Campbell said.
Mentors can take up to three students each. They meet at least twice a month with their freshmen and are required to take a pass/fail class that teaches leadership and mentoring skills.
During their times together, mentors can share information that helped them succeed. They also encourage freshmen to join groups that are fun socially or that provide professional benefits.
“This program immediately yielded positive academic results for participants; but I believe it will also contribute to the future persistence and long-term social and academic engagement of these scholars at the University,” said Courtney Brecheen, assistant dean of AES and Undergraduate Programs.
Good Grades and Great Fun
Freshmen and their mentors carved pumpkins in October and took part in the Stress Busters Olympics before fall finals.
In fall 2012, the GPA average for AES freshman students with mentors was 3.8 percent higher than it was for AES freshmen without mentors. In spring 2013, their GPA was 4.5 percent higher.
“We definitely see some GPA movement – and in the right direction,” Campbell said.
Beyond that, they also just have fun together.
Last fall, freshmen students and their mentors participated in student-led events that included going to the State Fair of Texas in September, carving pumpkins in October and taking part in the Stress Busters Olympics before finals. The latter included a scavenger hunt, games, pizza and hot chocolate.
Almost 97 percent of the mentors surveyed last fall said they would recommend the program as a good leadership opportunity to their fellow students.
Cordelia Osondu, a sophomore in biology, said she applied to be an AES mentor because she likes helping people. She already mentors 24 students as a Peer Advisor in Residence Hall Southwest, but felt she could take on one more.
“I love getting to know people,” Osondu said. “I think the mentor program connects students to UT Dallas faster. Without it, you have to build your own connections. This does it for you.”
She and her freshman student, neuroscience major Brianna Parker, were paired academically; both are on a pre-med track. They met face-to-face at an AES mixer party and exchanged phone numbers. They started meeting each week and Osondu answered questions about life at UT Dallas.
They still keep in touch this semester.
“I really enjoyed it,” Osondu said. “I will definitely do it again next year.”
Current UT Dallas students who are interested in participating in the program can review requirements and apply on the AES Freshman Mentor Program webpage.