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Initiative expands undergrad mentorship

Students pleased with number of options, but face difficulties navigating multiple programs

The New Scientist Program is training 25 mentors for the Graduate-Undergraduate Mentoring Initiative this semester, giving undergraduates another outlet through which to seek mentorship and advice. While students and administrators lauded the University’s multitude of existing advising options, they also expressed concern over how difficult it may be for students to navigate them.


A ‘program for everything’

Under GUMI, junior and senior science concentrators will be paired with graduate students who will help them build networking skills and prepare for graduate school.

GUMI joins several other peer advising programs targeted at specific groups, including ALANA — the African American, Latino, Asian/Asian American and Native American mentoring program — which was founded in 1994, and the Women in Science and Engineering mentoring program, which began in 1991.

“Programs like WiSE, ALANA and GUMI are … extremely helpful, as they target certain groups of students who might gain from additional advising,” Kira Bromwich ’15, a Meiklejohn leader, wrote in an email to The Herald.

When Katherine Bergeron was appointed dean of the College in 2006, “advising was not robust enough,” said Kathleen McSharry, associate dean of the College for writing and curriculum.  “So we developed programs we never had before,” she added.

“There’s almost a mentoring program for everything, which is really cool,” said Leah Haykin ’16. She joined WiSE last year as a mentee and is currently a mentor to a prospective biology concentrator.

Under Bergeron’s tenure, peer mentoring programs such as NSP’s Peer Advising and Leadership Initiative and the Curricular Resource Center’s Matched Advising Program for Sophomores were created.

“Peer advising is essential. It’s one of the linchpins of Brown student culture. The open curriculum can’t function without it,” McSharry said.

In MAPS, sophomores opt into a mentoring relationship and are paired with an older student with similar academic interests, said CRC Director Peggy Chang ’91.

MAPS is “at capacity in terms of how we staff it, but for the past two years we’ve been able to accommodate all of the students who applied,” Chang said.

This year, 120 sophomores are participating in MAPS, up from about 40 who participated in MAPS during 2010, its inaugural year.

Peer mentoring can come from departmental undergraduate groups, too. There are about 45 active DUGs right now, wrote Darcy Pinkerton ’14, a DUG student coordinator, in an email to The Herald.

In addition to having the option of taking part in these targeted programs, all first-year students participate in the Meiklejohn Peer Advising program, which has about 350 active advisers who provide first-years with insight into adjusting to Brown’s academic and social culture.

“I’ve never been at an institution where undergraduates had at their disposal so many resources,” said Christopher Dennis, deputy dean of the College.

“The number of advising programs and variety really speaks to the way students learn and … seek help,” said Undergraduate Council of Students President Todd Harris ’14.5. “I think it’s very Brown to have a lot of different ways that students can get their advice and figure out how to make decisions.”


Advising vs. mentoring 

Some students make a distinction between advising and mentoring, Chang said.

“Mentoring implies more of a relationship or a fuller understanding of who the student is,” she added.

Haykin said she appreciated the fact that she had a female WiSE mentor who was older and had gone through similar experiences. Now as a mentor herself, she said she provides “general peace of mind and sanity tips” to her mentee.

Both PAL and GUMI mentoring require “regular or periodic face-to-face contact, and that tends to be important for establishing mentorships,” said Joseph Browne ’11, coordinator of NSP. In PAL, participants commit about two hours per week to small group meetings, he added.

Whether students are looking for advising or mentoring, “all students should work very hard to find someone or some group of people here who are invested in getting to know them as a scholar and as a person,” Chang said.

Lacking a list

McSharry noted that there is no comprehensive list of the University’s advising options where students could easily see all the opportunities available for mentoring and advice, adding that students might get lost navigating the available options.

“Students are overwhelmed by communication,” McSharry said. “It’s not a problem limited to Brown or higher education. There’s so much noise, it’s difficult to know what to pay attention to.”

Many students will not know a program exists “no matter what you do, in terms of table slipping or Morning Mail,” Browne said.

Some wonder if the University should focus on strengthening the advising programs it has instead of creating new ones.

McSharry said “it’s hard to come up with staff resources” when new initiatives are created.

“I think strengthening these individual programs is really essential,” Harris said. Basic communication and ensuring that students are knowledgeable about the advising process is important, he added.

UCS wants to improve the advising experience of students, Harris said. Results from UCS’ fall poll, which garnered the highest number of responses in recent years, show the sophomore advising experience needs the most improvement, he added.

Chang said advising is a two-way street. “It’s up to the students to put their faces in front of us and come see us, but it’s also our job not to rely on electronic communication,” she said.“I can name so many seniors who say, … ‘I finally figured it out, but that journey of finally figuring it out wasn’t easy.’”



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