Faculty/staff mentors: Guides, advocates, friends
Imagine this. You’ve been at Carolina for just a few days and you meet a professor or professional staff member who wants to be your mentor – your personal guide to campus, your advocate.
That’s what happens in the Carolina Covenant faculty mentoring program, where Covenant Scholars are matched with a volunteer faculty or professional staff member who will mentor them during their first year at Carolina. That person has committed to support a small group of Scholars in their daily lives and to help them discover and participate in campus life. The goal is successful students who graduate.
“Carolina is dedicated to helping Covenant Scholars make a successful transition into the University,” says Dr. Fred Clark, Academic Coordinator for the Carolina Covenant. “Many Carolina Covenant Scholars are the first in their family to attend college and many attended small high schools. College can be an overwhelming experience for them.”
Each year, some 35 mentors:
- Attend a training session before meeting with their Scholars;
- Work with up to 15 Scholars each;
- Meet with Scholars individually; and
- Host social activities for the students in their group.
Privately-funded stipends pay for social and cultural outings for mentor groups.
Mentors sometimes relate personally to what students experience during their first months at Carolina. Clark, also a professor of Romance languages, says he does.
“I was a first-generation college student, and I had no idea what university life was like and no one at home who had been through this to help guide me. Academically, I was pretty well prepared but in other respects, I had no idea what to expect. This might be the case with some of our Carolina Covenant Scholars.”
One mentor, Dr. Joe Hopfinger of the psychology department, says that he quickly saw how intensely Covenant Scholars apply themselves. “I’m struck by the degree of motivation and focus that many of these students have and also by their plans,” he says.
Scholars are encouraged to take advantage of the program and let their mentor know about their dreams, hopes, plans and questions.
“Students typically perform better if they have some guidance from faculty and advisers to make sure they are on track,” says Shirley Ort, Associate Provost and Director of Scholarships and Student Aid at UNC. “A lot of times, it’s just observing students and spotting something that may be a little out of the normal or that could indicate problems.”
“Money matters for these students,” Ort says, “but I expect that the embrace of the community will – in the end – prove to be an even more powerful predictor of student success.” The mentoring program is part of a campus-wide support network and commitment to student success.