Student Assembly to begin first-year mentoring
By Jenny Che, The Dartmouth Staff
Published on Tuesday, July 17, 2012
Student Assembly will implement a new first-year peer mentoring program in the fall to facilitate incoming students’ transition to college. Upperclassman mentors will be individually paired with incoming students to act as an immediate resource and to help freshmen adapt to college academics, extracurriculars and social scenes, according to Student Body President Suril Kantaria ’13.
A pilot program will begin this fall for around 200 first-year students living in the Fahey-McLane residential cluster, according to Kantaria. The Assembly aims to maintain a one-to-one ratio in order to create the most effective mentoring experience.
“This is something that I’ve been passionate about since freshman year,” Kantaria said.
As Class Council president during his freshman year, Kantaria co-chaired a subcommittee that looked into student concerns about first-year advising. The group found voids in the formal structure of first-year advising outside of specific identity groups, he said.
“We’ve seen through surveys that peer advising is the most frequently used type of advising at Dartmouth,” Kantaria said. “Freshman year, it may be more difficult for freshmen to have a formal link to upperclassman mentors. We’re trying to give them someone with similar interests who they can lean on to improve their first-year experience.”
In the spring, Kantaria and Student Body Vice President Julia Danford ’13 met with Associate Dean for Student Academic Support Services Inge-Lise Ameer to discuss how to implement changes to the advising system.
“The best method is to have an Assembly initiative led by students and to lean on the administration for support,” Kantaria said.
The Assembly is also leaning on Ameer’s “unique” experience at Harvard University to shape the mentoring program around Dartmouth’s needs, Kantaria said.
At Harvard, Ameer co-founded the student advising program and created an advising network portal, which gives undergraduates, advisors and professors online access to student information. One of her priorities when coming to the College in August 2010 was to reform the advising system to make student mentors available in a centralized location.
The Assembly-led initiative is primarily academic and will supplement first-year students’ faculty advisors, Kantaria said. The student body needs an institutional mentoring program, according to summer Student Body President Andrew Longhi ’14.
Student mentors are available across specific activities and identities, such as the Native Americans at Dartmouth program and the women’s group Link Up, but the Assembly sought a universally inclusive form of mentoring, he said.
Widespread success of mentoring programs at peer institutions, including Harvard, further prompted the Assembly to move forward with the initiative. The initiative will act as an added resource and will not conflict with other mentoring programs’ missions, according to Longhi.
The most important step is to recruit a diverse pool of applicants, Longhi said. The Assembly has reached out to the Panhellenic Council, Sexperts, the Dartmouth Asian Organization and the International Student Association, among other groups, and has received a positive response, he said.
The College’s unique characteristics can be better addressed and explained with the help of upperclassman mentors, Longhi said. “When you go to a place with a small campus and a strong social culture, one benefit of having an advisor is that they can serve as a resource when freshmen are in challenging situations,” Longhi said.
Longhi said that because Dartmouth students are particularly invested in facilitating new students’ transition to college, the Assembly will likely find a number of engaged upperclassman applicants.
“They want to be a support system for entering students, and that’s why I think the program will be successful,” he said. The selected mentors will reach out to their mentees by the end of the summer, before the new freshmen arrive on campus. Mentor training will take place before Fall term begins, according to Kantaria.
The Assembly maintains close contact with the Harvard advising program and later hopes to incorporate collaborations with other campus mentoring groups. At the end of the 2012-2013 academic year, the Assembly will evaluate the pilot program and discuss moving forward with the Dean’s Office, according to Kantaria.
“My hope is that it will be adopted by the administration because that is the best way to ensure continuity,” Kantaria said. “An administration-led program would also be most successful if we were to later expand it to the entire freshman class.”
Administrative support will also be instrumental in providing funding, as the Assembly lacks the funds to run a full-fledged mentoring program, according to Kantaria. “We believe that the best way to effect change is for us to launch the program without waiting for administrative approval, and they will be more likely to take on the initiative once we provide them with concrete data and results,” he said.
Semarley Jarrett ’14, who is involved in the First-Year Student Enrichment Program, said that her experience has taught her that having a mentor is “extremely beneficial.”
“Having someone to talk to who’s been around can help alleviate a good amount of stress,” she said.