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Peer mentoring program a success at the Fulton College of Education

July 09, 2007

Walk through the Farmer Building’s courtyard on any given day during the school year, and one is likely to see students studying or chatting, wearing T-shirts with big, white Japanese lettering and the word "Senpai" or Kohai" on the back.

These students are members of the innovative Senpai Kohai peer mentor program, created in 2006 by the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education's Office of Student Services. The students are paired one-on-one, which allows them to become more connected to their peers and to the college as a whole, while developing valuable personal connections and networking skills.

While exploring retention strategies for freshmen and sophomore education majors, the suggestion was made to model a peer mentor initiative after the one-on-one system used in Japan, where new employees are paired with a more experienced member of the staff who is somewhat close in age and disposition. The novice becomes the kohai and the mentor the senpai. This informal relationship contunies thorughout both careers, often developing into a long-lasting friendship.

After launching the program last summer, the response was immediate and enthusiastic. Seventy-six participants enrolled in the program. These students were matched based upon major and extracurricular interests. Throughout the fall semester, a number of social activities were developed by the mentors, who met with their kohai at least once a week. Their connection continued throughout the spring semester and culminated in an end-of-year celebration where students voiced their appreciation for the program.

In addition to the accolades from the participants, the statistics also spoke volumes to the success of the program. Freshmen participating in the program persisted at a rate 10 percent higher than the class average – and, more importantly, their average grade point averages were substantially higher: 3.46 versus the college’s overall freshmen average of 2.95.

“We believe building relationships among our student population will increase students’ sense of community, and ultimately increase grade point averages, retention, and graduation rates,” says Gia Taylor, assistant dean for the Office of Student Services at the Mary Lou Fulton College of Education.

“Research shows that today’s undergraduates are ‘over-optionalized’ and do not respond to additional demands on their time and energy,” Taylor says. “The one-on-one Senpai Kohai model is designed to be student-centered, student-directed and loosely structured, allowing students to easily blend their busy schedules with the requirements of the program. Students can maximize the program’s potential benefits in a way that serves both their needs as well as the college’s. Additionally, the Japanese flavor of the program’s name and logo infuse a broader awareness of the diverse and multicultural nature of teachers’ experiences in today’s classrooms.”

Jennifer Rubins, who developed and oversees the Senpai Kohai program, says that the success of the program has exceeded her expectations.

“The freshmen loved having a peer connection, the sophomores benefited from the mentoring experience, and the peer partners coordinating the program thrived on the leadership experience they received,” Rubins says. “The level of growth and connection to the college that I have witnessed in these students is incredible, and I have no doubt that this program will be a hallmark experience in these students’ college careers.”

To date, nearly 40 percent of last year’s participants have agreed to be mentors in the program for this fall, and 20 percent have moved into leadership positions as residential assistants, peer mentors in the college’s residential community, and in various student organizations.