Making the transition from living at home under the watchful eye of parents and high school teachers to life on a college campus sometimes hundreds - or even thousands - of miles away from home can present students with some unique challenges and the need for a little experienced advice.
At the College of Arts and Sciences, a new "Mentoring Matters" initiative is gearing up. The program builds on a culture of mentoring that has helped many SLU students over the years as they transition through new phases in their lives at SLU and beyond.
Departments within the College of Arts and Sciences will host a variety of events and activities throughout the month of February that primarily will target first and second year students. CAS Mentoring Matters events and activities will help to foster positive connections between majors and faculty mentors, and build confidence and motivate students to be successful and reach their goals.
Arts and Sciences dean Michael Barber, S.J., believes mentoring plays an important role in the SLU community.
"Our faculty in the College of Arts and Sciences takes their responsibility to mentor students very seriously since such mentoring not only helps with student retention, but also comes with being a Jesuit Catholic institution where concern for the well-being of our students and their intellectual development is paramount," Barber said.
Mentoring is not a new idea but it is one that can make an impact on students as they interact with mentors or move into leadership positions to assist other students coming behind them.
Kati Cundari, a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences, recalls the challenges she faced and how her faculty mentors guided her.
"As a freshman, I came in very confused about what I was going to do with the rest of my life," Cundari said. "I took a few classes and found my connection in communication. I declared a major and began working with Elizabeth Richard, Ph.D. (Undergraduate Director of Communication) who not only helped me understand the basics of class selection but also helped me consider what I could do with each of the concentrations within my major."
Cundari added that the hardest part of transitioning from high school to college was learning how to create her own schedule and balancing it. Her other big challenge was knowing when to ask for help.
"I think a lot of first-year students think they need to do it all themselves - to prove themselves to their parents, their classmates, their friends and themselves," Cundari said. "We have so many resources on campus at our disposal."
A double major, Cundari also praised her international studies mentor, Mary Wolf, Ph.D., who has been a strong guide for her not only in understanding the requirements of her major but in many other ways.
"I know that I can walk into Mary's office and talk about academic troubles, stresses with my internship or a documentary I just watched that I think she would enjoy," Cundari said. "She became a mentor for more than just academics. She helped me make a great decision on where to study abroad and decide on an internship this fall. The mentoring process allowed me to get to know Mary for which I am quite grateful."
And for Kari, the mentoring process didn't stop there. She became a SLU 101 leader, answering questions and sharing her experiences with a new group of students ready to join the SLU community.
"A&S students are part of a very diverse college," she said. "With majors ranging from psychology to criminal justice and theater to biology, each person has their own questions, concerns and excitement coming into SLU."
Cundari said she has two pieces of advice for new students.
"First, get involved on campus. Join a social group, an academic group and a service group. These groups not only help you get connected to the SLU community but also help round out the Jesuit education that many people may not have known they wanted before, but appreciate so much when it is over."
"Second, make a strong connection with a professor or mentor. Not only will it make classes more fun if you are comfortable, but you also have someone that will provides references, make recommendations or maybe even think of you for internships or job opportunities they come across."
Rodney Pruitt, also a A&S senior majoring in communication with minors in Film Studies and African American Studies, shared the insights he gained, especially as a first-year student.
Pruitt said that interaction with mentors and other leaders were essential in helping him develop a great first year experience.
"Mentoring with faculty helps the transition process because students are welcomed into a friendly, understanding and caring environment that strives for student success, both mentally and academically," Pruitt said. "Growth as a person outside of the classroom is just as important as academic growth. Faculty and staff guarantee that students are receiving this quality service."
Mentoring also is a positive experience for the professors who share time with the students and recall those whose mentoring, advice and friendship during college has stayed with them throughout the years.
Cundari's communication mentor, Dr. Elizabeth Richard, said the rewards of working with students are tremendous.
"On a professional level, each mentoring experience deepens our skills working within the institution and with the students," Richard said. "Personally, the feeling of helping a student reach goals is very gratifying, Nothing pleases me more than meeting with a student who was referred by another student I've helped in the past. To me, that shows that I'm doing a good job."
Richard added that each student is different and needs different things.
"For some, the biggest need is a kick in the rear end. For others, the biggest need is help with perspective and looking at the big picture. For still others, the biggest need is having someone to listen quietly while they talk about problems. The mentoring relationship is about discovering what each student needs and working to that end together."
Although she is now the mentor, Richard has strong memories of the people who mentored her as a college student.
"I was fortunate to have several mentors during my college years," Richard said. A few of those relationships have continued as I have transitioned from being a student to a professor and mentor. Being able to contact mentors who have known me since I was 18 years old for perspective and advice is priceless. They also have a way of reminding me that I don't have to have all the answers."
Anneke Bart, Ph.D., Associate Chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, said the focus on mentoring is one she really likes and one she believes is beneficial to everyone involved.
"I think both the faculty members and the students can gain from the experience. For faculty it is rewarding to speak with and mentor our students. Getting to know some of our wonderful students keeps us connected to an important part of our profession: -- teaching," Bart said.
"For the students there are many benefits as well. Having a chat with your mentor regularly means that someone is on your side helping assure your path through college is as smooth as possible. Through your mentor you may find out about some great professional opportunities, scholarships, and hopefully it keeps you connected to your chosen profession/ studies."
Bart adds that mentoring plays a different role at different levels and there is great value in knowing all your options.
"A student new to the major or minor should have a chat with their mentor to figure out what all their options are."
"In our department we like to make new students aware of the math and computer science club. Several departments have such clubs and this is a great way for students to get to know not only their mentors, but also some of the other faculty and the fellow students in their program."
Bart remembers professors who officially or unofficially mentored her through her own times as a student and how it often kept her going.
"I remember appreciating the feedback I got. It was nice having it affirmed that I was doing the right things and was making progress. I specifically remember one professor telling me I was clearly very talented. That comment got me through many a rough spot! We all have our off moments and knowing that we are still doing fine in the big picture is important."
The College of Arts and Sciences will host "Mentoring Matters Month" in February. Watch Newslink and the A&S webpage for additional details.