Like many institutions and Mentor Collective partners around the country, the University of Michigan-Flint (UMF) entered the post-pandemic academic year with concerns about their retention. With general retention numbers below the national average, UMF discovered that the numbers were even lower among first-generation students, students of color, and veterans.
On October 27, 2021, Mentor Collective welcomed members of UMF’s Student Affairs team to discuss how they put a plan in motion this summer to build an intentional first-year success program with mentorship at its core.
Here are a few steps that UMF took along their journey to ensure not only a strong program, but also institutional buy-in from the start.
Engage Your Students
“Like everyone else, we were in the throes of the pandemic in the summer of 2020,” says Christopher M. Giordano, PhD, vice chancellor for student affairs at UMF. “We were trying to determine what our fall student experience was really going to look like, and how can we best shape that and support that to allow for success in a world that no one really knew a lot about?”
Giordano and his Student Affairs team developed a student engagement plan that would focus on several core elements:
- Creating an interactive online experience
- Producing opportunities for peer-to-peer interaction
- Embedding community building, sense of belonging, and connection into engagement activities
- Focusing on overall well-being, inclusion/equity, support, and resilience development
- Developing appropriate metrics to evaluate effectiveness
Create—or Adapt—Your Mentorship Plan
UMF already had six pocketed mentorship programs across campus, but they realized that they were missing a lot of students—especially those at the margins. Plus, institutional challenges made their existing programs hard to scale, such as:
- Lack of infrastructure to manage communication between students and provide support when needed
- Not enough staff hours needed to serve entire cohort meaningfully at every stage of program
In order to make this goal of inclusive and manageable mentorship happen, UMF turned to Mentor Collective for help.
“We wanted to make sure that we were strategic about how we approach [mentorship] so we could provide this opportunity for all students, and we recognized that the Division of Student Affairs really could be a leader on campus in promoting and overseeing this effort,” says Giordano. “We have a high percentage of first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented minority students, and we need to create a model that serves everyone.”
With the Student Affairs team as partners throughout the entire process, Mentor Collective designed a mentorship program that targeted melt/retention, academic success, and sense of belonging aimed at undergraduate students before they even start of classes. These incoming first-years were matched with upper-level UMF students through shared criteria such as academic major, life experiences, and career interests.
Get Leadership Buy-In from the Start
Giordano and his team knew that getting support for their mentorship initiative from the top down was critical. They developed a proposal, armed with outcomes data, and demoed their ideas to core campus stakeholders—sometimes in groups as large as 40 people—identifying any areas of pushback that could be remedied from the beginning to make the process smoother.
“This was perhaps the most important part of the process,” says Giordano. “We were looking at creating a structure that was sustainable, so we really had to identify who the stakeholders were and start to share what our vision was for peer mentorship on this campus. We started with sharing the information at the cabinet level to get the chancellor on board. Then we spoke to all of the academic deans. And when we had some broad buy-in, then we drilled down a little bit and started to identify key campus stakeholders.”
Since launching in August 2021, UMF’s mentorship program has seen an overwhelmingly positive response, generating more than 280 mentorships, which was 25 percent more than the university’s goal. These pairings have generated more than 800 conversations and 4,200 text messages, showing high engagement by the students, and has allowed the UMF staff to quickly and easily identify potential retention issues—such as financial or academic concerns—and address them directly with students to mitigate drop-out and transfer rates.