Background and Need
At the conclusion of the 2017-18 academic year, Dean Gene Jarrett announced a strategic plan that placed mentorship at the core of the undergraduate experience. This focus resulted in the creation of the CAS Task Force on Mentorship charge on mentorship would examine current efforts involving faculty-student, peer, and alumni mentorship, and student research opportunities.
This document summarizes the work of the Task Force, details its recommendations for enhancing the infrastructure and outcomes for peer and alumni mentoring in the College, and offers steps that we will take to support mentorship throughout the College. This discussion about mentorship can be situated within broader conversations about student success within CAS. Fall 2019 will report the most selective admissions cycle ever for the College, with a 9% admissions rate. Our aim is to build on this impressive success while improving our four-year and six-year graduation rates, as well as our first-to-second year retention rate. Since mentorship is known to be tied to student success, alternative advising and co-curricular programming should prove helpful in our efforts to improve these statistics.
In colleges and universities, mentoring is an activity related to, but distinct from, academic advising. It can cover many activities, but typically refers to the development of a personal and ongoing relationship between a faculty member and a student, in which intellectual, professional, and personal goals can be pursued. Mentoring can help shrink the psychic size of an institution, can enable students to get the most out of their college experience, can facilitate students’ performance and persistence, and can also lead to national scholarships and global awards.
Mission and Charge
The CAS Task Force on Mentorship charge was given by Dean Gene Jarrett, with three missions related to developing a vision of mentorship for the College. Over the course of Fall 2018, the Task Force met to:
- examine existing and propose new mentorship opportunities for undergraduates;
- identify best practices for such engagements; and
- cultivate synergies between curricular and co-curricular efforts.
The CAS Task Force on Mentorship completed its work in February 2019 , with the submission of its report to the College.
Task Force Priorities
To help advance the work of task force members over a truncated meeting schedule, we have divided members into subgroups dedicated to these key themes. We imagine that the topics may evolve over time and across a range of conversations, but these nonetheless serve as guidelines to focus the efforts of the subcommittees, based on the host of previous surveys, completed research, and our preliminary discussions with faculty, students, staff, and alumni:
- Student Exposure to/Involvement in Faculty Scholarship
- Alternative Advising and Co-curricular Models
- Mentoring Strategies for First- and Second-Year Students
- Alumni/Peer Mentorship (UG-UG, Grad-UG, Alumni-UG) Opportunities
The various subgroups consulted a wide variety of constituencies and sources to gain a holistic understanding of mentorship within the College. Sources, individuals, and groups consulted included:
- Academic administrators from CAS Departments/Programs
- CAS Advising staff involved in academic, peer, and alumni mentoring programs
- NYU Alumni Relations staff
- NYU Office of the Provost staff
- non-CAS NYU academic staff
- Peer reviewed articles on mentorship effectiveness, models, and best practices
- Peer institutions with representative mentorship programs
Formats included environmental scans, informational interviews, surveys, and focus groups.
Summary of Subgroup Reports and Recommendations
Student Exposure to/Involvement in Faculty Scholarship
We organized the committee's discussions around challenges, existing resources, and possible solutions, and categorized these as Personal or Curricular. The committee addressed differences in the roles and experiences of faculty and students as well as differences in faculty and student motivation and expectations. We noted the importance of providing different points of entry for faculty-student research, and the need to have different levels of intensity and commitment across a student's experience at NYU. We recognized these relationships as reciprocal, not only in terms of what faculty can ask from students or teach them, but also what this relationship can teach faculty.
Our most important "takeaway" is to centralize the information, opportunities, and pathways for
students and faculty to engage in research experiences through the formation of a physical and on-line Office for Undergraduate Research (OUR). Primary topics discussed include:
- faculty- and department-based initiatives related to faculty-student research
- cross-College and cross-University programs related to faculty-student research
- challenges and obstacles faced by students, faculty and departments that may deter research mentorship opportunities.
Create an Office for Undergraduate Research.
- Create opportunities for students and faculty to engage in research together at every stage of their experience and careers.
- Support the development of best practices for mentors and mentees (faculty, post-docs, graduate students, and undergraduate students).
- Assess ongoing undergraduate research programs.
- Liaise with existing resources on campus (Library, Undergraduate Librarian, Writing in the Disciplines, DUS, Grant programs, etc.).
- Develop curricular changes to enhance the involvement of research.
- Enhance funding opportunities and recognition of faculty-student research.
- Designate research as central to the undergraduate NYU experience.
- Prominently feature undergraduate research accomplishments and opportunities on the university website, and every local website (college, department, center, etc.).
- Enhance Faculty research profiles.
- Create mechanism to facilitate matching faculty-student research interests.
Alternative Advising and Co-curricular Models
“Co-curricular programming” designates activities that take place outside the classroom but are closely tied to course content: museum visits, theatrical performances, field trips, movie nights, and departmental gatherings for students are all examples of co-curricular programming. Such activities aim to bring students into close contact with faculty in settings that foster conversation. “Alternative advising” encompasses forms of advising that occur outside of or extend beyond official advising structures, as when a faculty member shares information, advice, or contacts with students seeking internships or employment. Both practices should foster contact between students and NYU’s preeminent faculty.
Co-curricular programming can often create opportunities for alternative advising, since it helps expose students to faculty’s research interests (for example through brown-bag lunch presentations, faculty research showcases aimed at undergraduates, and DURF conferences). By giving students an opportunity to ask questions of faculty with whom they have not (yet) taken classes, even simple social events within departments can help forge mentoring relationships.
Overall recommendations for departmental practice:
- Generate a short statement of what will be expected during department advisement and how official advising can relate to alternative advising/mentoring opportunities
- Schedule a monthly majors meeting with faculty in attendance
- Leverage events that can end up being important mentoring opportunities (for example, when students are inquiring about an honors thesis)
- Make it easy for students to sign up for faculty advising and office hours
- Require office hours during the semester, especially for first years
- Make majors more attractive by highlighting faculty involvement
- Equip students with the skills needed to talk to faculty (e.g., hold an informal session teaching them how to initiate and sustain contact with professors)
- Include graduate student teachers co-curricular and mentoring activities: graduate students often enjoy greater contact with undergraduates and can be brought into the process
- Facilitate the built-in mentoring that happens in the First-Year Seminar
In departments where official advising is not done by faculty but by professional advisers or by administrators, there is a risk of losing opportunities for mentorship and alternative advising. In order to mitigate this risk, we suggest departments consider taking the following actions:
- Have designated faculty attend specific hours during official advising periods
- Assign groups of students to faculty as a secondary resource (in addition to the official advising done by the administrator or professional adviser
- Assign every major a faculty mentor
At the College level:
- Reinstate/improve faculty research portal so that students can search website for keywords
Mentoring Strategies for First- and Second-Year Students
Mentoring presents a special challenge in the first and second years, when many students have not yet declared a major and do not, therefore, have a departmental home. And even those who have declared a major increasingly tend to cluster in the largest departments, where individualized attention is hard to come by. (For this reason, some of our recommendations for the first and second years may be applicable to the third and fourth years as well.) Here in the College at NYU, mentoring in the first two years is further complicated by the sheer number of students (every entering class is roughly 1,450 students), and by the necessarily divided attention of the faculty who, as at any major research university, have many competing demands on their time.
In making our recommendations, we were guided by several observations. First, reflecting on the very successful mentoring model that undergraduate research represents, we have concluded that mentoring activities and interventions are most meaningful when linked to a programmatic element. (This is also clear from the activities sponsored by the Faculty Fellows in Residence Program and the Faculty Affiliates Program.) Past experience in “assigning” students to a faculty mentor often resulted in awkward and artificial conversations, since these encounters did not arise naturally out of a shared interest or common programmatic experience. Next, we recognize that “one size does not fit all.” NYU is a very diverse community, and in our recommendations we have tried to keep in mind the different needs of particular populations, such as students of color, first-generation students, and international students, as well as the different interests and personalities of faculty members and different departmental cultures. Finally, some of our recommendations focus on activities and events; some of these pertain to individual faculty members, whereas others apply to larger units such as academic departments, the College Core Curriculum, or the College Cohort Program; and some recommendations involve administrative changes. Almost all have financial implications.
(A) Take advantage of period of time prior to matriculation:
- Identify population-specific academic preparation experiences, for example, for first-generation, international or underrepresented students
- Host department-sponsored open houses or talks. These events would reinforce standing tradition of Declaration Season and Day that occur every Spring in the College.
(B) Utilize effectively First-Year Seminars and Advising Cohorts:
For first-year students, the College offers the First-Year Seminar, a small academic experience on an academic topic and the College Cohort Program, a co-curricular experience that introduces students to topics related to student success. We recommend leveraging these programs in the following ways:
- Assigning willing faculty to participate more fully in the cohort program.
- Exploring the possibility of thematically-related First-Year Seminars.
- Leverage the First-Year Seminar as a natural environment for mentoring. While the College’s Office of Academic Affairs already has modest funds available for seminar instructors to bring students to cultural events, the amount is limited and requires faculty to petition in advance. We propose instead that each First-Year Seminar instructor be allocated a modest fund for this purpose at the outset of the semester. Even $500 per seminar represents an outlay of only $50K per year.
(C) Expand Access to Undergraduate Research:
- The Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund has a separate category of funding called FAST (Freshman and Sophomore Training) grants. This program could be expanded to serve more students, if it were promoted more aggressively.
- The new pilot Research in Teaching Initiative offers great promise as it encourages instructors of First-Year Seminars to redesign these courses to incorporate meaningful research training and opportunities. This program will be rigorously assessed and, if successful, could be extended to more First-Year Seminars and also perhaps to other courses which first-year students take (e.g., introductory courses in the disciplines, or Core Curriculum recitations which could be made research-intensive). The pilot provides a stipend for faculty; expansion of the pilot would require additional funding.
(D) Create More Small-Scale Courses (e.g. Two-Credit Courses, Directed Reading Courses, and Study Away):
- Leverage existing Classics, French, and Spanish 2 point courses to be models for other courses, not only in the humanities, but also in the social and natural sciences, and introductory-level courses.
- Encourage students and faculty to participate in Directed Reading or Independent Study courses, since these bring one or a few students together with a faculty member in an environment that is conducive to mentoring. In many cases, these courses are taught as uncompensated overload by willing faculty; but if more students take advantage of this experience, departments will need to work out how such teaching counts in the calculation of faculty workload.
- Promote study away. It’s worth noting that classes at our Global sites tend to be small, and students tell us they greatly appreciate the close attention they receive from their teachers. With this in mind, we recommend that large departments like Economics actively promote Study Away among their students.
(E) Support Departmental Initiatives and Individual Faculty Interventions:
- We recommend that departments continue to offer beyond Welcome Week a robust program of open houses, talks, panels, and information sessions.
- Individual faculty should be encouraged to engage directly with their students. Faculty should be encouraged, for example, to bring small groups of students to departmental lectures or other campus programs, or to off-campus events (e.g., films, performances, and museums), and then to discuss these events with the students over coffee or a meal. These activities will obviously require funding. In some cases, this funding already exists, if faculty wish to dine with students in a residence hall. But, faculty need to be made aware of the availability of free faculty meal tickets from NYU Dining Services for this purpose.
- Utilize as a model the Faculty Fellows in Residence Program, which not only has funds set aside to buy tickets to performances or to pay for meals with students or refreshments at events, but also has a staff member who assists the faculty in obtaining discounted bulk tickets and organizing events; it would be helpful if some such support could be more broadly available to all faculty in the College.
- Institutionalize certain activities. For example, if the College could identify in advance from the large number of events taking place each day on our campus those that seem particularly appropriate for faculty-student mentoring (e.g., the free Skirball Talks that take place each Monday).
(F) Peer and Graduate Student Mentoring:
- Utilize peer and graduate students who can provide a different sort of mentoring and also connect undergraduates to faculty. In the College’s five-year dual degree program with Tandon, for example, the HESS student club trains its fifth-year students to mentor younger students. Similarly, in the College, the new Proud to Be First Program has had success using peer mentoring, as has the longstanding Academic Achievement Program. In addition, graduate students are future members of the professoriate and, as such, can provide undergraduates valuable advice and support. They can also model the intellectual life for our undergraduates. To take just one example: the Society for Ancient Studies, a graduate student organization drawn from several departments and affiliated with the Center for Ancient Studies, is sponsoring in February 2019 an undergraduate research conference which will include students not only from NYU but from across the country). We propose that graduate students, as part of their professional development, be trained and encouraged to mentor undergraduates, both informally in their departments and also in the stand-alone courses they teach, and in the recitation sections they lead for the College Core Curriculum and for departmental courses that first- and second-year students take.
(G) Utilize Office Hours:
- We propose providing faculty with a template or suggestions for questions that can spark productive conversations. This connects to the College’s Office Hours Policy.
- Another productive strategy for office hours could be to have them thematized or structured around specific lessons or topics covered in class (as is the case in one section of Principles of Biology).
(H) Administrative and financial changes:
We propose creating the position of Faculty Director of Student Mentoring. The job description for this position would include working closely with the College Office on mentoring initiatives, promoting mentoring among departments, developing a list of best practices and templates for mentoring interactions, and listening to faculty about what they need so that they can be effective mentors.
The College has long recognized excellence in teaching with its annual Golden Dozen Awards. We recommend that the College establish a comparable Faculty Mentor Award, with similar benefits to the faculty member and her department. Other peer and target institutions have such prizes and they serve not only to honor individuals, but to highlight the importance of mentoring.
Finally, as noted above, a number of our recommendations will require additional resources. These include increasing the number of FAST grants in the Dean’s Undergraduate Research Fund, expanding the Research in Teaching Initiative, providing a modest honorarium to the Faculty Director(s) of Mentoring and perhaps also to faculty who get involved in the College Cohort Program, providing a $500 program budget for each First-Year Seminar, establishing a Faculty Mentoring Award, increasing the funding that is available upon request to individual faculty and departments who wish to develop mentoring initiatives, and providing infrastructure to support them in these activities.
Alumni/Peer Mentorship (UG-UG, Grad-UG, Alumni-UG) Opportunities
Current Status of Peer Mentoring in CAS
The College currently offers several peer mentoring programs that provide CAS undergraduates with the opportunity to be mentored by another student. In most cases, the student mentee is in his/her first year of college, while the student mentor has upperclass status as a junior or senior.
College Cohort Program:
The College Cohort Program provides all CAS first-year students with the opportunity to belong to a small community within the College that is diverse in intellectual range, serves as a crucible for debate and scholarship, and fosters a welcoming and supportive environment. Each Cohort is assigned a both an academic adviser and a College Leader, an advanced undergraduate who serves as a peer mentor for this cohort. College Leaders serve as peer mentors for students in the cohort during their first year in CAS. In students’ sophomore year, the role of the College Leader is replaced by a Sophomore Cohort President, who is elected from within the cohort membership.
Proud to Be First:
Proud to be First, now in its fourth year of operation, is a student support initiative for first-generation students in CAS, with a focus on first-year students who are making the transition to college. For the past few years, the proportion of first-generation students within the matriculated first-year class is between 17-19%, which is a high number for a selective institution like NYU. Students can choose to have a peer mentor. The program also includes faculty mentoring through the Faculty Connect program.
Academic Achievement Program:
The Academic Achievement Program (AAP) has been in existence at NYU for 30 years, with the goal of providing academic and social support to students from under-represented backgrounds. The program is open to Black, Latino, Native American, and other underrepresented groups. The program originated in CAS, but now includes students from Gallatin and Stern. One of the support structures within AAP is a mentorship component, which runs throughout the Fall semester of a student’s first year. Some students identify as both first-generation and members of under-represented groups. In such cases, a first-year student in CAS may have three peer mentors: one from Proud to Be First, one from AAP, and the College Leader within the College Cohort Program.
Pre-Health Peer Mentorship Program:
The Pre-Health Peer Mentorship Program, founded by CAS alumnus Ben Norman, extends for a single academic year. For 2018-2019, the program has 20 mentors and 51 student participants from across a variety of pre-health fields (not only pre-medical). The mentors are recent college graduates who are currently enrolled in medical school, dental school, etc. The limited timeframe of one year, together with the fact that the mentors are busy students pursuing their own health careers, means that the mentoring relationship tends to focus on practical concerns (e.g., managing the medical school admissions process) rather than developing a long-term relationship.
Other Peer Mentorship Programs in CAS:
- The College offers peer mentoring for international students in which 40 mentors, all upperclass international students, provide support for approximately 190 mentees.
- We are aware that NYU’s International Student Center also offers extensive programming for international students, including a Global Buddies program that partners international students with peers from the United States. https://www.nyu.edu/students/communities-and-groups/international-students/InternationalStudentCenter.html
- WINS (Women in Science) is a student organization that extends from the sophomore through senior years. The undergraduate students in WINS organize the Peer Undergraduate Mentorship Program (PUMP), in which each student mentor is provided with $25 to take a mentee for a few coffee meetings during the academic year. WINS also contains a faculty mentoring component that is beyond the scope of this report.
Current Status of Alumni Mentoring in CAS
Alumni Mentoring through Arts and Science Alumni Relations:
Alumni Relations has been involved in alumni mentoring for the past four years through a connection with the College Cohort program. Last year, 70 alumni were matched with student mentees. The alumni mentors range widely in their number of years since graduation; some are very recent college graduates, whereas others graduated 40 years ago. In order to take more advantage of the alumni mentors, CAS could strategically increase the number of undergraduate students who participate in this mentorship opportunity. However, the biggest impediment to increasing the scale of alumni mentoring is the labor-intensive process of matching students with alumni. Pairings can be based on major, career industry, skill set, or some other criterion, but a successful match requires careful thought and regular check-ins throughout the semester.
Lawyer Alumni Mentoring Program:
The Lawyer Alumni Mentoring Program (LAMP) was founded in 1997 by a CAS alumnus, Evan Chesler, who currently serves as chairman of Cravath, Swaine & Moore, LLP, one of the premier law firms in the United States. Mr. Chesler’s idea was to organize a number of CAS alumni with successful careers in law, who would individually mentor pre-law students in CAS. Each mentor typically meets with the mentee once per month; admitted students are formally mentored for one year, but mentees may informally extend their connection to their mentors, the program, and the Office of Preprofessional Advising. Former mentees are invited to the LAMP Alumni Brunch in March, and they are recruited to serve as mentors for future generations of pre-law students. In this manner, the CAS staff aim to cultivate alumni loyalty to LAMP so it can continue to thrive in the future. Future goals for LAMP are to sustain the current cycle of success, and to increase the diversity of mentors and mentees.
Best Practices in Peer and Alumni Mentoring: Insights from the Literature
As a result of our reading and analysis, the subcommittee identified the following best practices in peer and alumni mentoring:
- Having an explicit “theory of change” is critical. It is important to establish the goals of the program, the reasons why, and a ‘roadmap’ to bring about change. Programs should be put into institutional and historical context, and relationships to past and contemporary programs need to be established. A logic model or diagram can help establish specific aims and niches.
- Benchmarks should be set clearly, shared early, and assessed regularly. Although mentoring can, and perhaps should, continue beyond the end of a given program, an appropriate process of closure should be included in the program design.
- Consistent and continuous evaluation of mentoring programs is critical for incremental adjustment and improvement. Empirical data suggests that mentors’ and students’ perceptions of the experience may not always align, and so both should be sought. Qualitative feedback should be gathered in addition to satisfaction surveys.
- Mentor recruitment, whether for peers or alumni, should begin with the definition of realistic limits to the responsibilities of the role. An adequate process of screening (particularly for peer mentors) should be devised. All mentors should receive formal training and instruction in mentoring best practices and guidelines.
- The matching of mentors and mentees is a delicate process and must be undertaken carefully. Racial or gender factors may not be as important in assignment as a good personal match with individuals who have encountered similar personal or professional situations.
- Mentors should have the same or a similar program of study to the mentee, to ensure common content knowledge. Academic achievement is not generally a determinative factor in the quality of the mentor.
- Mentees should be actively recruited via ‘opt out’ processes, as often the students who need mentoring the most are those who are least likely to seek it out.
- Students should not be overburdened with too many mentors, but it should be noted that task-related or career-related mentoring is a different process than psychosocial mentoring, and requires different skills from the mentor. Psychosocial mentors have good listening skills, and are supportive, trustworthy, and helpful (rather than simply empathetic).
- There are notable differences between formal and informal mentors. Examples of formal mentoring include Residence Assistants, College Leaders, Cohort Presidents, student group leaders, etc.. Informal mentoring is harder to define, but involves student peers supporting, instructing, and mentoring each other. Colleges can facilitate informal mentoring by providing the social space for it to grow, foregrounding the importance of informal mentoring at orientations. A student’s peer group is the single most potent influence on development, and the most deterministic element in degree completion.
- Alumni are often enthusiastic about participating in mentoring programs. Undergraduate students should be informed of the value of having an alumnus/a as a mentor.
- Create departmental listserves (or social media platforms) for student networking and coordination within programs of study. Foster the creation of departmental student groups, such as study groups for particular courses, in addition to faculty-advised clubs or societies.
- Faculty members should routinely invite undergraduate students to talks, lectures and symposia, to enable them to meet potential mentors.
- Create learning communities involving undergraduate and graduate students, who may serve as peer mentors.
- Hire a mentorship coordinator for the CAS Advising Office with administrative responsibility for all peer and alumni mentorship programs.
- Integrate a discussion of mentorship within the College Cohort Program.
- Extend mentoring within the Academic Achievement Program to a full academic year.
- Examine the value of having multiple peer mentors.
- Enhance the role of mentoring within the undergraduate student societies for each academic department.
- Explore the creation of a peer mentoring program for students who are planning to have a study-away experience at one of NYU’s global sites. https://www.nyu.edu/london/returning-from-london/become-a-global-peer-mentor.html
- Increase alumni mentoring for first-generation students through the Proud to Be First Leadership Initiative.
- Integrate alumni mentoring into credit-bearing internship experiences.
- Cultivate current CAS peer mentors to become future alumni mentors.