Peer mentoring programs in higher education


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This white paper talks about the benefits of peer mentoring programs in higher education and how you can implement one.

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Peer mentoring programs in higher education

  1. 1. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationMutual ForceTaking Peer Mentoring for College Freshmen to the Next Level,Using the Mutual Force Mentoring Communication PortalMay 20132013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  2. 2. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher education1. Executive Summary“Peer mentoring” in the college or university setting is not a new concept. It is onewidely found across American campuses, and its success is tied to its many benefits. Ourreview of more than 30 current programs via their on-line presence and presentationshow that the features offered through the peer mentoring programs of colleges anduniversities are as varied and individual as the schools, themselves.Of particular note, however, is the irregular treatment of the communication aspect ofpeer mentoring programs in the college or university setting. With the exception of onestudy, described below in detail, most programs contained only vague references of howmentors, mentees, faculty, and staff would communicate with each other to meet theexpectations set for the program and to work towards the goals of the program.Although there is a wide array of commonly available communication platforms, use of aspecialized mentoring portal designed and supported by Mutual Force will enhance peermentoring programs, particularly in the college or university setting. This singlecommunication platform approach offered by Mutual Force allows for online secureprofiles, auto matching of mentors with mentees, evaluation, administrative oversight,resource capture, communication facilitation, and even crisis intervention and analysis.2. Benefits for AllA mentoring program in any setting can provide a multiplicity of benefits, to both thementor and the mentee, as well as to the sponsoring organization, business, or school.In the college or university setting, the peer mentoring program among students canachieve both immediate and long-lasting results. Research has established that there aremeasurable results for college and university peer mentoring programs, includingincreased grades, decreased academic probation, and reduced attrition. Other narrativeresults of these programs include long-term benefits of friendships and transitions intoalumni networks.Instead of ending this White Paper with the benefits of a peer mentoring program, webegin with a listing of some of the many benefits for each party. The benefits list can bebroken down by mentor and by mentee, and can also include benefits to the college oruniversity. The benefits to the students may be the more obvious, and these benefits have2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  3. 3. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationbeen the subject of numerous studies. The benefits to the college or university are no lessimportant. All of the benefits can be viewed as long-lasting.First, let’s consider some of the benefits to new students for participating in peermentoring programs:• improved grades• decreased probability of academic probation• reduced attrition• making that first connection on campus• bridging from parents to independence• benefiting from peer advice• gaining a role model across a span of years and into the alumni networkBenefits to the student mentors who participate in peer mentoring programs are alsosubstantial and include:• leadership skills• communication skills• crisis intervention skills• resume building• intrinsic benefits that come from helping othersAnd, there is an equally strong list of benefits to colleges and universities that offer andsupport peer mentoring programs:• making a personal connection through mentors to new students to overcomepractical considerations that administration can’t meet and connect with everystudent• creating cross-level connections across the study body, which are more durableand long-lasting• establishing relationships between students and faculty/administration that areoriented towards personal and academic development, without the pressure ofbeing a graded settingBenefits of peer mentoring of new students in the college and university setting benefitmentors, mentees, and the school on levels that are academic, institutional, and personal.In particular, there is a significant body of research into the effects of peer mentoring inthe academic setting. There are formal as well as narrative studies, and many providedetails of the peer mentoring programs.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  4. 4. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationPerhaps the most interesting research findings relative to peer mentoring programs is thatof “significantly higher final grades” in the second semester for first year students whowere participating in year-long peer mentoring program over their classmates who didnot. A study from researchers at the University of Western Ontario in Canada1usedgrades as well as self-reported motivation to measure the impact of the peer mentoringprogram upon academic achievement.The particulars of the University of Western Ontario program were 95 Peer Mentors withthe same major as the first year students, who received both initial and on-going training.There were additionally 21 Mentor Team Leaders in their fourth year and sharing thesame major. There were also 22 Faculty Mentors. Each Peer Mentor was assigned fiveto seven students who engaged in weekly contact. There were 537 student participants inthe program out of 983 first year students.The students with high levels of participation “…experienced significantly highergrades…” This was true even for students described as suffering from “high anxiety.”Another quite interesting study about peer mentoring of new students was based on theengineering students at the University of Pittsburgh.2The study included a detaileddescription of the peer mentoring program. At the University of Pittsburgh EngineeringDepartment, the program included a pre-college orientation program, as well as ablending of mentoring activities within credit courses. The mentoring component of onecourse put 10-15 students per mentor into a small, weekly class setting with presentationson topics such as resources, wellness, diversity, transitioning, time management, workingin teams, study skills, test preparation, and more. Each mentoring component was builtaround a non-academic theme, whether sports, hobby, cultural, travel, or other. Thementors were paid for their responsibilities.The study found that “…the performance of the freshman has been greatly improved.”The results indicated that the percentage of students on first semester honors increased by1Susan Rodger and Paul F. Tremblay, “The Effects of a Peer Mentoring Program on AcademicSuccess Among First Year University Students,” The Canadian Journal of Higher Education,Volume XXXIII, No. 3, 2003, pp. 1-18. Accessed 04/30/2013 at Budny, Cheryl A. Paul, and Luis Bon, “Impact of Peer Mentoring on Freshman Students,”delivered at the 9thInternational Conference on Engineering Education (July 23-28, 2006),appearing in Journal of STEM Education, Volume 11, issue 5 & 6 (October – December 2010).Accessed 04/30/2013 at Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  5. 5. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher education38%, the number of students on academic probation decreased by 25%, and the overallGPA was increased by almost half a point.Both studies from the University of Western Ontario and the University of Pittsburgh areparticularly interesting to read because both papers contain a high level of data on themechanics of their peer mentoring programs. In addition to methodologically quantifyingtangible results of the peer mentoring programs, these papers discuss the directconnections between program attributes and program outcomes. These two studies areconsistent with various other studies, all of which contributed towards our listing ofbenefits of peer mentoring programs to the students, mentors, and colleges anduniversities.Peer mentoring programs in the college and university setting can provide a multiplicityof benefits to mentors, mentees, and to the school. The potential benefits of the peermentoring program can be significant, even if we simply look at study results relative toimproved grades, decreased academic probation, and reduced attrition.3. Mechanics of Designing and Instituting a Peer Mentoring ProgramThe wide array of benefits of peer mentoring reflects the vast number of options forsetting up such a program at a college or university. A college or university peermentoring program can be as individualized as the school, itself. The number ofconsiderations for the program design illustrates that the peer mentoring program can beas personal as the particular academic setting.To assist your approach to a peer mentoring program, we offer this outline ofconsiderations. The essential components are (1) program design; (2) mentor/menteeapplications, screening, and selection; (3) mentor training; and, (4) programimplementation and metrics.Program hierarchy. A primary consideration for the program design is the hierarchy thatwill be given to the program. Even with strong leaders among upper classmen serving asmentors, the vast majority of peer mentoring programs include a staff component andmany include a faculty component. The leading reason to support this type of hierarchyis not only training and overseeing the mentor, but, also, crisis management andintervention. The mentor-mentee relationship can identify medical and mental healthissues, and, in that instance in particular, the student mentor will need a crisismanagement protocol and experienced resource response.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  6. 6. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationProgram goals. The design phase of the program is also an opportunity to determine thegoals for the program. Some peer mentoring programs are a simple weeklycommunication, designed to answer basic, new student questions. Other programs aredesigned with multi-level goals from raising academic performance to reducing attritionto exposure to sub-specialties within the major field of study.Written materials. In some cases, the goals are memorialized as part of written programmaterials. The program might have goals and parameters laid out in quasi-contracts thatboth the mentor and mentee sign. Other programs are less formal, providing sheets withtips for mentors and mentees on engaging in a successful relationship. Some programsinclude a larger handbook to explain the goals, along with the mechanics and additionalresources around the campus and community. There are many peer mentoring programswith a strong on-line presence, incorporating these and other materials.Mentor responsibilities and benefits. The part of the peer mentoring program design thatshows the most significant variation is the responsibilities of and benefits to the mentors.The number of hours per week for mentoring activities appears to vary as widelydescribed as a few hours per semester to up to 12-15 hours/week. The ratio of mentors tomentees goes from a handful of incoming students to a cluster of up to 20 students. Thequestion of whether mentors will receive remuneration ranges from no compensation tocourse credits to $1,500/semester. And, some mentors receive perks like a dedicatedmentor lounge.Program resources. Along with the essential job responsibilities for the mentor are theidentification of resources that will be available on campus and, potentially, in the greatercommunity. Most peer mentoring programs link into student life offices, which servegenerally as campus-wide resource hubs. Although a mentor would likely receive someform of training and would work in a hierarchy that would likely include staff/faculty, thementor cannot be given too many resources. If the mentor is faced with an emergency ora rapidly escalating or deteriorating situation, the ability of a mentor to reach a resourceperson with superior knowledge could be crucial.Matching Mentors and Mentees. Within the peer mentoring program design, there arealso considerations for the application process for both the mentor and mentee. Willthere be a written application? If so, what information will be helpful to matchingmentors and mentees or will they have some ability to self-select each other? In somesettings, the number of applicants for a new program may be sufficiently low that theapplication process is more pro forma than not. But, in more established programs, theapplication process for mentors, for example, can become competitive as to GPA,involvement in campus life, and recommendations.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  7. 7. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationMentor Training. The other significant mechanical aspect of the peer mentoring programis the mentor training. Nearly all peer mentoring programs reviewed had a mentortraining component that occurred before the freshmen arrived on campus. At someschools, the training was on-going, with faculty and staff advisors covering a curriculumlike list of topics from recognizing harassment to appropriate mental health interventionsand emergency interventions. When schools expect to have an impact through peermentoring, the training of mentors is a thought-out and formal component of theprogram.Peer mentoring programs in the college or university settings can rapidly involve severalhundred if not more than one thousand student mentees. There are significant, provenbenefits, which make it well worth the effort to establish and maintain a peer mentoringprogram. To recap, considerations for setting up the program include:• hierarchy of the program, including staff and faculty;• goals for the program;• written program materials;• responsibilities of and benefits for mentors;• resources on a campus-wide basis;• process of matching mentors and mentees; and,• mentor training.Each of these elements of the peer mentoring program design can be as individual as theindividual college and university. There is a wide range of existing program features foreach aspect of the peer mentoring program. Advance planning and knowledge of campusresources appear to be keys to successful design and implementation of the peermentoring program.4. Profiles of Current Peer Mentoring Programs at Colleges and UniversitiesTo enhance our discussion of peer mentoring programs in the college or universitysetting, let’s take our list of benefits, study results, and program elements, and considerseveral current peer mentoring programs. Of the many programs with detailed on-lineinformation, two programs provide useful examples for our consideration. At bothCornell University and St. Bonaventure University, the schools have developed detail-oriented peer mentoring programs that reflect both specific goals and campus culture.a. Profile: Cornell University College of Engineering2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  8. 8. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationAt the Cornell University College of Engineering, the “Engineering MentoringPartnership”3is a peer mentor program that pairs new students with upperclassmen orgraduate students. The primary goal of the program is “…to support the personal andacademic development and achievement of students in the College of Engineering,especially women and underrepresented minority students.”The language of the program is anchored to concepts of “role models” and “protégés.” Itexpresses the culture of the program as “holistic” in nature and the relationships betweenpeer mentors and new students as “reciprocal.” Indeed, the roles and responsibilities setout in their “Peer Mentor & Protégé Handbook” are phrased as mutual experiences, asfollows:“In establishing and maintaining relationships, protégés and peer mentors:• share their particular expertise in different areas;• listen actively to each other’s college and life experiences;• encourage creative thinking in many areas of life;• respect and support each other’s life and academic goals; and,• attend regularly scheduled CU EMPower meetings and events.”The take-away tasks are practical, including, but not limited to, course selection, timemanagement, and resources for classes and exams.The Cornell University, College of Engineering peer mentoring program appears to be awell-developed and campus-reflective program. The on-line materials include everythingfrom calendars of events to on-line profile forms to written materials by way ofhandbooks and tips.b. Profile: St. Bonaventure UniversityAt St. Bonaventure University,4all incoming freshmen students are assigned a “PeerCoach.” The program is overseen by faculty members in Education and SociologyDepartments, plus a staff member. The University describes its Peer Coaches as follows:3Materials for the Cornell University, College of Engineering, Peer Mentor Program, areavailable on-line, beginning with, accessed 04/30/2013.4Materials for the St. Bonaventure University, Peer Coaching Program, are available on-line,beginning with, accessed 04/30/2013.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  9. 9. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher education• “…academically successful, involved in the university and want to help otherssucceed.”• “…empowering, positive, academically savvy, mature, responsible, engaged withinthe university, open and honest.”• “…committed to helping all freshmen have a great first year experience.”The Peer Coaches are featured on the “Peer Coaching” webpages, including year ofstudy, major, reason for being a Peer Coach. Reasons cited by the Peer Coaches for theirinterest in providing a peer mentoring experience include:• “I want to give freshmen the easy and fun transition that I had when I first started.”• “I want to share my experiences with incoming freshman (sic) so they can have asuccessful transition into Bonas!”• “I became a peer coach because I want to help/welcome the incoming freshmen asthey settle in with their start of their college career and make them feel a part of theSBU family.”The program matches mentors and mentees during the summer and includes “WelcomeDays” to meet the Peer Coach in person. The range of activities between freshmen andtheir Peer Coaches ranges from having someone with whom to each lunch for the firstfew days to suggesting activities to responding to resource questions.The peer mentoring program at St. Bonaventure University goes the extra step of puttinga personal face on the peer mentoring program, expressing both the readiness of the peercoaches and the greater warmth of the campus community. Through its on-line presence,the St. Bonaventure University peer mentoring program reflects a design that shows itsspirit to the incoming freshmen.5. How Mutual Force Can Enhance Peer Mentoring Programs at Colleges andUniversitiesMutual Force mentoring platform can help student services team create, manage, evaluateand run a peer mentoring program easily. Online applications, secure online profiles, automatching of mentors with mentees, communication platform with web and mobileinterface, evaluation in the form of surveys and comprehensive reporting are all part ofthis platform.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  10. 10. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationSeveral of the peer mentoring programs featured on college and university websitesdescribe communication in person, via phone, e-mail, text messaging, Twitter, Facebook,and Facebook group pages. While these are common communication platforms, thisscattered approach can lead to the same problems we experience in our personal andbusiness lives with having so many available platforms. At some point, one forgetswhere communication started, threads are dropped, and weeks later someone says,“Weren’t we going to get together?”There’s a reason the current trend is towards single applications or platforms withinorganizations and businesses, and it is a helpful direction for student peer mentoring inthe college or university setting. When there is one portal for all like communication,participants know where to go to communicate and where to look for communication.The single portal approach allows group participants to enjoy more communication andfewer struggles with communication management.Using Mutual Force as the common platform for peer mentoring communicationeliminates any confusion among your participants on where and how to communicatewith each other. With Mutual Force, mentoring programs don’t have to worry about lostcommunications or an inability to restart communication. The communications aregrounded into a single portal and the administrator can both monitor and preserve thecommunications. In fact, the administrator can function as a communication facilitator,being as visibly involved (or not) as participants request.Some of the peer mentoring programs spoke to “regular interaction” as part of the successof the peer relationship. Others expressed an expectation of weekly communication.Still others simply describe contact at the start of the fall semester and then in responsivecommunication throughout the year.When you use Mutual Force to facilitate communication for your peer mentoringprogram, administrators have the ability to review the history of communication and getparticipants through any problems. Some participants may not communicate as regularlyas expected. Using Mutual Force, the administrator can review the communicationexchanges and provide supervisory coaching to the mentee and/or the mentor to keepboth as active, satisfied participants.And, there was one aspect of peer mentoring programs that was not discussed in theliterature, and that was creating, sharing, and preserving knowledge. Mentors, along withstaff and faculty advisors, exchange a significant amount of information during a peermentoring relationship. Many of the questions they will answer from mentees areduplicitous.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved
  11. 11. Mutual Force white paper on peer mentoring programs in higher educationUsing Mutual Force allows program administrators to create transcripts ofcommunication between mentees, mentors, staff, and faculty, building an encyclopedia ofknowledge. These transcripts can be compiled into .pdfs that can be shared byparticipants in the peer mentoring program. These same written materials can assist theadministrator in refining and upgrading written program materials. And, the transcriptsof communication can help the program administrator identify any critical gaps in theprogram design.In addition, and perhaps most specifically in the college or university setting, the MutualForce platform allows administrators to review communication of crisis scenarios. Thiscan assist the administrator in appropriately intervening, understanding which resourcesmay be required, and how to connect with the mentee at risk. This aspect of crisisintervention for college students – though not discussed in as much detail relative to peermentoring programs as one might expect – is one for which our society is becomingincreasingly aware. The Mutual Force communication portal with administratoroversight and transcript capability is a unique tool, which is natural for crisismanagement intervention and analysis.6. ConclusionPeer mentoring programs at colleges and universities can have significant benefits formentees, mentors, and the academic institution. A well-designed and administered peermentoring program can create benefits that range from increased academic performancein freshmen to leadership building skills in mentors to reduced attrition rates for theschool.When colleges and universities add a specialty communications portal to their peermentoring program as designed and provided by Mutual Force, all participants enjoyenhanced communication. In addition, the college and university pick up the added valueof administrator oversight, communication preservation, resource building, and crisisintervention and analysis.The peer mentoring program, coupled with a group communications platform designedand supported by Mutual Force, can take the peer mentoring program to its next level ofachievement.2013 Mutual Force: All rights reserved