How three colleges increased student sense of belonging through mentorship
Provide a mentor to every first-year student.
A growing number of studies have found that students’ sense of belonging is linked to a number of outcomes, including their persistence in college and overall well-being. With access to new data and technology, institutions in higher education are focused on developing initiatives with the goal of fostering a sense of belonging, but scaling campus-wide remains cost prohibitive for many schools. See how three colleges created stronger communities for their students through volunteer mentorship programs.
Make mentorship a key component of your support strategy
To address the challenge, Lehigh gathered data from students in 1-1 meetings and small focus groups. Students identified three (3) core elements to their success: relationships with an older peers; relationships with faculty and staff; and active engagement.
Based on the results, Lehigh rolled out a campus-wide campaign through the Student Access and Success office to offer a diversity of wrap-around services including a first-generation residential community, a wage replacement program and peer mentorship. Through their partnership with Mentor Collective, Lehigh was able to invite every first-year student to join the peer mentorship program and receive a personalized mentor for the year. On average, underrepresented minority populations reported the highest level of engagement with their mentors. In Fall 2019, Lehigh expects 70% of all their students to have a mentor.
Use External Support to Scale Existing Programs
Integrating a new program into your existing services is important, but your school may already have a successful mentorship program, but face challenges scaling to meet the needs of all your students.
Like many current engineering schools, the James McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) sought to improve their students’ sense-of-belonging, particularly for women and underrepresented minority populations. WashU recognized the success of their mentorship programs but struggled to grow a few small programs serving highly engaged students, without hiring additional staff.
To overcome their challenge, WashU partnered with Mentor Collective, whose team designed and implemented a large-scale mentorship program engaging WashU’s network of alumni as volunteer mentors. To avoid marginalizing specific student populations, the mentorship program was launched to all undergraduate and master’s students.
Thanks to these efforts, WashU’s students reported an 8.2 percent increase in sense of belonging. As they continue their work to improve student sense of belonging, WashU’s leadership team remains focused on expanding mentorship across the school.
Download WashU's case study to learn more about their program →
The Messenger Matters
Despite best intentions, there is only so much student services can do to support students’ sense of belonging. Belonging, ultimately, comes from the community and the students finding others with whom they feel a connection. But, many students do not express—and often hide—that they feel disconnected and alone.
At Northeastern University, the Khoury College of Computer Sciences’ Align Program (Align), is for non-computer science majors to earn a master's degree. Align's mission to make learning more accessible by “eliminating the artificial boundaries of place and circumstance”. However, for adult learners who are balancing life, work and school, staying engaged can be challenging. To support their students' transition into a technology career, Align partnered with Mentor Collective to connect students with experienced peer mentors across their five regional campuses—Boston, Charlotte, San Francisco, Seattle, and Silicon Valley.
For unique student populations, peers can help build self-efficacy without making them feel stigmatized. Every Align student was invited to sign-up during orientation and most registered that day or immediately after. Mentors who volunteered for the program were able to empathize and encourage new students in those moments of self-doubt while pursuing their degree. Conversations primarily focused around academics over phone, text and email.
Peer mentorship has helped Align’s leadership deliver a holistic approach to supporting their students. Students who were paired with a mentor reported being 18% happier with the Align program than those without and were 47% less likely to melt. But ultimately, mentors helped students find the support they needed to feel like they were part of a community. This and other related initiatives contributed to Align’s 6.6 percentage point increase in fall to spring retention.
Reflections: FGLI Consortium 2019 Conference