Like many Mentor Collective partners around the country, Georgia Gwinnett College (GGC) entered the post-pandemic academic year with an eye toward connecting with incoming freshman and transfer students in new and effective ways.
On August 11th, 2021, Mentor Collective (MC) welcomed members of GGC’s Student Engagement and Success (SES) Department to discuss this important shift, discovering how they succeeded in instilling a sense of belonging in a diverse class unfamiliar with the campus culture and/or the college experience.
Here are a few of the key takeaways from the event.
Understand your audience.
As a Minority-Serving Institution (MSI), GGC has been named a Most Ethnically Diverse Southern Regional College for the past seven years by U.S. News & World Report. The student body comprises 33 percent Black/African American students, 27 percent White students, and 25 percent Hispanic students. Moreover, 45 percent of students are first generation and 11 percent are non-traditional.
Because of this diverse group, GGC wanted a high-impact mentorship program committed to the success of all students that could help close equity gaps.
“The complexity of our student population inspires our work around student engagement,” said Dr. Marie-Michelle Rosemond, vice president for student engagement and success at GGC. “Student success drives the mission of this institution.”
“At GGC, Mentor Collective’s goal was really on student success and retention,” said Vanessa Ford, university relations director at MC. “We focused on first-year and transfer students before they arrived on campus, getting them that upper division student as a mentor to start answering their questions. We have a very comprehensive matching survey with over 80 different criteria, but we really ensured that mentors and mentees shared common academic foci and critical life experiences—such as working a part-time job, or maybe taking care of a parent—so that we can start off those relationships with some common ground."
Engage stakeholders from across campus for holistic buy-in.
GGC’s Student Engagement and Success Team leveraged the Institutional Research & Analytics Team, student and staff surveys, and the opportunity to gain new insights from the Mentor Collective partner dashboard to garner consensus among top leadership, including buy-in from Budget & Finance and the Office of Technology. Unifying themes that got departments across campus invested in the Mentor Collective program at GGC included student success, student/staff emotional resilience, sense of belonging, retention, and persistence.
“We were actively looking for solutions to engage students outside of the classroom, and a lot of our GGC colleagues were open to that and that was the difference,” said Dr. Rosemond. “The pandemic created a huge reset for us, and we were all looking for solutions.”
Ask your students what they need and how they’re doing—early and often.
Beginning in May 2020, GGC’s Institutional Research and Analytics team began deploying surveys to get a sense of how students were feeling. In this first survey, out of 11,700 students in the student body, GGC garnered a statistically powerful 25 percent response rate.
“To really measure the challenges that students were experiencing, we collected information at about three to four different pivots during the pandemic,” said Dr. Rosemond. “The data that Mentor Collective gathered was so critical because it allowed our students to tell us about what type of support they needed: technology, multi-tasking different roles, being a first-gen or first-year student, and so on.”
With this crucial data, GGC’s mentoring program really took off. As a benchmark, their existing peer mentoring program engaged only 75–100 of their incoming freshmen and transfer students. The Grizzly Mentor Collective program—launched during a pandemic when everything was uncertain and students were overwhelmed by technology and paradigm shifts—garnered huge success, engaging nearly 1,600 first-year and transfer mentees and more than 350 trained junior and senior mentors. On a scale of 1–7, mentors reported a satisfaction rate of 5.91, with mentees conveying an astounding 6.45.
“The partnership between Mentor Collective and Georgia Gwinnett College crystallized because it's one of the ways we onboard students throughout the pandemic and helped ensure student engagement and success,” said Dr. Karen Jackson, associate dean for advising programs at GGC.