FEBRUARY 8, 2015 | BY EDWIN SMITH
Many University of Mississippi freshmen are receiving valuable help from their older peers, thanks to a unique mentoring program in the College of Liberal Arts.
Foundations for Academic Success Track is designed to help first-year students transition from high school to college in a supportive environment. Approximately 400 FASTrack students per year benefit from the smaller and enhanced classes, individualized advising/mentoring and a community of supportive peers. FASTrack students earn higher GPAs, go on academic probation less often and return for their sophomore year at higher rates that their peers.
“The program is an amazing way to use your experience to help younger students adapt to and love a whole new environment,” said Emily Richmond, a junior accounting major from Jonesboro, Arkansas. “It is awesome to be able to not only connect with these students, but to see them connecting with each other, providing them with a support group of peers that are experiencing the same growth and change.”
FASTrack peer mentors serve as role models and co-instructors in the EDHE 105 Freshman Experience courses in the fall semester. Mentors guide their protégés through the challenges they face in the first year while helping them become familiar with the campus, student services and academic resources. Many mentors were once FASTrack students themselves.
“Serving as a peer mentor for the students of FASTrack has opened my eyes to what I truly enjoy most in life, and that is affecting the lives of those around me in a positive way,” said Ryan Williams, a sophomore mathematics major from Clinton. “Being a peer mentor has allowed me to come out of my shell and gain the qualities of a true leader.”
Students helping students is a best practice, enhancing student success and leadership, said Sarah Smitherman, FASTrack peer mentoring director.
“‘I’m a big believer in the power of mentorship at any level and have personally and professionally benefited from it over the years,” Smitherman said. “There is comfort in knowing that there is someone looking out for you who knows exactly what you are experiencing because they have just gone through it as well.”
Upperclassmen also help coordinate various social activities throughout the semester, helping further build the FASTrack community.
“In FASTrack, our students support each other, and our peer mentors are the best example of this principle,” said Stephen Monroe, assistant dean in the College of Liberal Arts and FASTrack director. “FASTrack peer mentors are savvy student leaders who make our university a better, more welcoming place.”
Doug Odom, EDHE 105 instructor and AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer, said having peer mentors in class connects him to the students.
“As a recent graduate of the University of Mississippi and as a 24-year-old, I leaned heavily on our peer mentors,” Odom said. “As young as I am, students were willing to open up to me a bit more than I would have expected, but there were still subjects they did not want to discuss with me. That’s where our mentors shined.”
Odom said he gave mentors the last 15 minutes of every class to guide, advise and listen to the first-year students.
“I guarantee our class would not have been as tight-knit had we not had such great peer mentors,” he said. “The peer mentors are invaluable to the FASTrack program.”