The Cameron University Office of Teaching and Learning has received a $9,660 Impact Teaching/Learning Grant from The IDEA Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving learning in higher education through research, assessment and professional development since 1975. Cameron is one of only six universities across the country out of more than 125 applications to be selected as a recipient. The inaugural IDEA Impact Grants are funding projects that will positively impact teaching and learning and student well-being.
“Cameron’s commitment to student success starts in the classroom and ends only with degree completion,” said Dr. Marge Kingsley, Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs. “We understand that the freshman year is a critical period for students transitioning from high school to college. This embedded peer mentor program will allow us to determine if peer mentoring leads to greater academic success for Cameron’s freshman students.”
The grant will be utilized to fund peer mentors embedded in select freshman classes during the 2016-17 academic year. Freshman-only sections in five high-enrollment, multiple-section general education courses – English Composition I, Survey of Mathematics, U.S. History to 1865, General Psychology, and Fundamentals of Communication – will have peer mentors embedded into the class. Peer mentors will be selected from student applicants who have successfully completed the course to which the application is directed and who demonstrate strong academic performance. Prior to selection as a peer mentor, applicants will be vetted by relevant academic departments and will also be subjected to a background check. Students selected as peer mentors will be employed as student workers for the duration of the project.
“The embedded peer mentor program will not only have an impact on freshmen students, it will benefit the students who find campus employment as peer mentors,” says Kingsley. “In addition, faculty members across campus will benefit, as those faculty members involved in the project will present their findings with their colleagues.”
Prior to the start of the Fall 2016 semester, peer mentors will undergo extensive training using Newton and Ender’s “Students Helping Students” as the principle text. The training will cover diversity and equal opportunity, listening strategies, problem solving strategies, academic support strategies, campus resources, legal issues and other relevant topics. Instructors for the freshman-only sections will also receive training in pedagogies conducive to first-year college student success using Erickson, Peters, and Strommer’s “Teaching First-Year College Students” as a text.
During the Fall and Spring semesters, freshman-only sections with embedded peer mentors will address the same academic content as other sections, but faculty will consciously employ teaching methods proven to be effective with first-year students, articulate university expectations for college-level academic performance and behavior, and provide information about campus resources available to help first-year students making the transition to college. Peer mentors will sit in on each class, meet weekly with the instructor, and be available at least three hours each week in the Center for Academic Success for office hours and group study sessions. Peer mentors will also be available to talk with students before and after class.
“A key component of the grant is that of sharing our findings,” says Kingsley. “By compiling and comparing data from embedded peer mentor sections to sections that do not have embedded peer mentors, we can assess the impact of the program, disseminate that information, and hopefully inspire other institutions to adapt a similar program.”
The concept for the program originated when Kingsley attended the annual meeting of the Consortium for Student Retention Data Exchange, where the idea was presented by another university.
“It seemed like a brilliant idea for bringing together freshman students with faculty who enjoy teaching freshman-level classes and know how to teach them well,” Kingsley says. “Peer mentoring has been around for a long time, and peer mentors can provide a very effective support system. Their experience of being a student is more recent than that of a faculty member, and they can be seen as a safe forum for asking questions of someone who isn’t assigning you a grade. We are gratified to know that IDEA found our proposal worthy of funding, and we look forward to launching the program.”
May 18, 2016