Located about 45 miles east of Los Angeles, University of California, Riverside educates one of the most diverse student populations in the nation and has been at the top of social mobility rankings for four-year public institutions for the past three years. Tailoring student success initiatives to the unique needs of more than 26,000 undergraduate students is no easy feat, but Assistant Vice Provost of Undergraduate Education Dr. Thomas Dickson believes the common denominator for all sustainable and scalable strategies lies within growing authentic connections between peers.

On May 5th,  we hosted  Dr. Dickson, Assistant Director of Student Engagement Lisa Des Jardins, and UCR mentor Karina Patel to discuss how structured peer mentorship with Mentor Collective went from emergency pandemic response to a student voice intelligence engine. 

Watch the full webinar or read key learnings from the event below.

About The Campus Collective Programs: 

The Campus Collective programs are peer-to-peer mentorship programs through Mentor Collective that use a highly responsive platform to design, manage, and analyze structured mentorship on campus. Campus Collective began with both first-year students and transfer students in the same program, but were separated into two cohorts in January 2021 to hone in on the specific challenges each population faced throughout the academic year. Focused on building  sense of belonging  and replicating the "hallway conversations" students have before and after class, the program matches incoming students with upper-division peers that volunteer to be mentors. Key points of success have been the doubling the size of engaged students between year one and year two, higher retention rates for both populations, and creating "just-in-time" interventions throughout the academic year. 

Our panelists: 

Dr. Dickson_UCR

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Karina Patel Student Mentor

Key Learnings: 
Peer Mentorship Took UCR from Remote Community Building to Helping Ease Students Back Into Campus Life

UCR found that connecting students to peer mentors was beneficial beyond a pandemic response. In easing students back to campus and curbing anxiety, the Campus Collective program was making many students aware of additional campus services. Dr. Dickson found institutionally they also had an opportunity to explore engagement data within the program to make informed decisions about how to support students and when.



Mentee Choice is Important in Mentorship

The undergraduate team at UCR felt they benefited from Mentor Collective’s sophisticated matching algorithm that allows mentees to identify key match criteria, including shared ethnicity, first-generation status, lived experiences and academic interests. 

Mentor Collective uses the same award-winning algorithm that many hospitals deploy to match medical students to their residency locations. This prioritizes the needs of the mentee first and foremost and ensures that mentees receive their best possible match regardless if they’re the 1st or 100th student to sign up for the program.

Engagement Is More Likely When You Pay Attention to How Students Communicate

Part of Mentor Collective’s initial appeal for Dr. Dickson was the integration of text messaging, a native means of communication for Gen Z learners. 98% of Gen Zers own a smartphone, which they check more than 80 times a day. This natural extension of student behavior seemed like the perfect way to reach the large and diverse first-year and transfer cohort. UCR mentor and proud first-generation student Karina Patel emphasized this when she spoke to attendees of the webinar. 



In the first year of the program UCR engaged 31% (1,545) of its first-year population and 30% (666) of transfer students as mentees and 6% (992) of returning students as mentors, showing how eager students were to connect during the early days of the pandemic. 

UCR also saw in the second year of the program how peer mentorship was more than a pandemic phenomenon. Year two outperformed the pilot year exponentially for mentee participation with 50% (3,014) of first-year students and 44% (1,008) of transfer students opting into the program. Mentor participation saw a slight decrease with 4% (886) opting in.

The importance of text communication came through in both the year one and year two engagement data, showing approximately 21-22 text messages per pair each year, a total of 55K+ text messages in year one, and nearly 90K text messages exchanged in year two.



Ultimately, There Needs to Be a Value Add

Mentor Collective’s comparative analysis of mentored and non-mentored students across a sample of its programs shows that even one interaction with a peer mentor improves a student’s likelihood to persist term to term. UCR saw these results in their own institutional retention analysis. Dr. Dickson elaborated:

“We wanted to see that this was giving us a return on our investment…For freshmen, we did see a 1.3% higher retention rate of the students who were participating versus those who were not participating in the program. When they moved on from winter to the spring term, that was 1.4% higher, and returning from spring to the next year in fall it was a 2.1% higher rate for those that were mentored versus those that were not. If you look at our transfer students, those numbers were even more pronounced: it was a 4.1% term-the-term retention increase and a 5% spring to the next fall retention increase.

Level of Engagement Makes A Difference 

When it comes to the amount of engagement as it relates to retention, more is better. In a 2021 study conducted across mentorship programs hosted by Mentor Collective, students that reported 3+ conversations with their mentors showed a higher rate of retention. That magic 3+ conversation metric is given to Mentor Collective partners to measure the impact of their programs on their campus. UCR concurred with its own reporting that more conversations equated to higher retention rates.


Create "Just-In-Time Supports" Through Flags

Mentor Collective's Flag system provides mentors with a way to communicate to program administrators that their mentee requires additional support. Many times mentors can be directed to a resource on campus that addresses the Flag, but other more serious challenges - such as food or housing insecurity - that fall outside of a mentor's role require intervention.  UCR referred to the institutional response to these Flags as "Just-In-Time Supports".


Building off of this data, Dr. Dickson used these insights to map out what challenges students were facing and when, giving  his team the ability to anticipate student needs throughout the academic year while promoting help-seeking behaviors. 

Source: Dr. Thomas Dickson

What Are Students Talking About?

 "This definitely helps us get long term get feedback back to our administration and to our different offices to be able to figure out the right times and moments to be able to have those interventions and those 'supports' outreach to students." - Dr. Thomas Dickson, AVP of Undergraduate Education, UCR

Mentor Collective’s treasure trove of data on student voice includes conversation reporting. Conversations are kept private, but mentors are encouraged to log the subject matter of longer conversations to add additional context to the student experience. Karina Patel, a first-generation UCR student with eight mentees, elaborated on the conversations she’s had with her peers and the often ambiguous “other” category. 


 Gaining Comparative and Narrative Sense of Belonging Data

UCR is using Mentor Collective’s pre-, mid- and post-program sense of belonging survey data to get a clearer picture of how mentorship is influencing the ways students feel about their place in the campus community. Future plans are to expand on this dataset by collaborating with Mentor Collective on a non-participant survey to gain comparative perspectives. 

 Qualitative data completes the picture of how students are perceiving their college experience with a mentor. Mentors were equally affected and found the responsibility of being a mentor personally fulfilling and enlightening as to the lengths that administrators were willing to go to help them achieve their goals.



What’s Next for UCR? 

Dr. Dickson discussed the future of the Campus Collective peer mentorship programs for first-year and transfer students. In addition to engaging earlier (pre-orientation) to work toward yield goals, his team plans to work across campus to engage students constructively and strategically.



Mentor Collective’s partner case study webinars are a wonderful way for administrators and higher-ed leaders to hear from their peer institutions, but on occasion attendees have the benefit of hearing directly from a student about the lived experiences that led them to participate in a mentorship program. Closing out the webinar, mentor Karina Patel shared some impactful parting words, aimed at refocusing the narrative of student success on the student. 



To hear more about the University of California, Riverside programs, watch the full recording of the discussion. To start a conversation about how to utilize mentorship to engage and support your students, contact Mentor Collective.