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Heritage University has an undergraduate population composed primarily of Hispanic and Native American students, 80 to 85 percent of whom are first-generation students. The university has an all-commuter student population and, as a result, many of its students do not readily form a mentoring relationship with members of the campus community who could help bolster their confidence and help them achieve their goals. Through the CIC/Walmart College Success Award, the Heritage Stars Mentoring Program provided first-generation college students at Heritage with the opportunity to have as a mentor a professor or staff member at Heritage, a graduate of Heritage, or a community member who had earned a bachelor’s degree.

The program formally supported mentor-student pairs by offering occasional opportunities to gather for group activities facilitating both relationship and student development. These activities included a kickoff event at the beginning of the fall semester, fall workshops on personality style as related to career choice, a welcome-back gathering at the beginning of the spring semester, a spring workshop on adopting a growth mindset, and a year-end celebration and mentor recognition. Although such program-wide activities were intended to support and fuel mentoring relationships and the work of mentoring, the heart of mentoring is at the individual level, and the majority of program activities consisted of one-on-one mentor-student time together. Mentors were asked to meet regularly with their students, spending time in ways that would foster their students’ growth and success, with meetings occurring often in the mentor’s office or over a meal. Conversations focused on topics such as sharing the experience of college, goal-setting, problem-solving, and celebrating successes. Beyond conversing, mentors and students often engaged in active experiences together such as attending a community festival or having a student shadow the mentor in a science laboratory.

Program Outcomes

Program participants, nearly all of whom were in the targeted campus population (Hispanic and Native American), entering as first-time, full-time students in fall 2011 re-enrolled for fall 2012 at a rate of 87 percent. In contrast, non-participating students in the same cohort re-enrolled at a rate of 62 percent. Of all first-generation students entering as first-time, full-time students in fall 2011, 69 percent reenrolled for fall 2012 compared to second-year retention rates of 59 percent and 58 percent for first-generation students in the fall 2010 and fall 2009 cohorts.

Program participants entering as first-time, full-time students in fall 2011 had a mean cumulative GPA of 3.25 after spring 2012, compared to a mean cumulative GPA of 2.94 for non-participating students in their cohort.
With its lasting value and impact, especially in terms of expanded social and cultural capital, the most successful outcome of the program was the significant mentoring program and the relationships that benefited these students.

Program Updates

The cost of this program was unsustainable without some form of outside support, and it was decided that a very structured mentoring program was too expensive because of the difficulty of getting all the parties involved interested and engaged. The experience of operating the Heritage Stars Mentoring Program has been successful, however, and so a less expensive peer mentoring program has been developed. The student peer mentors are being trained and compensated.

In addition to peer mentoring, another project offshoot is the production of faculty-focused three-minute videos called Breakthrough Strategies. These are website accessible and feature faculty sharing a classroom-based practice that fosters persistence and success for first-generation students. The project is expanding to include faculty from other institutions, especially CIC/Walmart College Success Awardees, who would like to share effective classroom practices through future videos.