Mentors needed for class of 2008
The semester is not quite over, but organizers of the campus Mentorship Program already are focusing on the next academic year, during which they hope to recruit more faculty and staff to serve as role models, advisers, encouragers and navigators for freshmen entering the University.
Current participants say being a mentor is simple and rewarding. Mentors agree to meet regularly with freshman students to participate in activities organized by program staff, by peer mentors assigned to each group, or by the mentors themselves. They provide a reassuring presence in a turbulent time for students who can be overwhelmed by all that Michigan offers. The rewards for participating are many, mentors say.
"It's good because it reminds me of some of the things students deal with outside of the classroom and beyond doing homework," says Laura Olsen, LSA associate professor of molecular, cellular and developmental biology, who is serving her second year as a mentor.
Olsen says her group is active, having participated in the Arts at Michigan Arts Adventure, a series of University Musical Society and School of Music events designed to encourage students to partake of cultural activities offered in the community. They have shared dinnersparticularly on Sundays, when the residence halls do not serve food in the eveningsgotten together for holiday cookie baking and gone on ice cream outings, among other activities. Because students are assigned to a mentor who is from the discipline they plan to study, Olsen also has helped them with scheduling classes by offering a registration workshop.
One of the highlights of their involvement was working on a Habitat for Humanity house in Detroit in September, says Meera Tavathia, one of the students Olsen mentored.
"One thing I really like to do is have an impact," Tavathia says. This desire has prompted the Iowa resident to come back next year as Olsen's peer mentor.
"I want to give back whatever I learned and experienced to help out other freshmen," she says. "Here at Michigan, it's such a big campus, I feel it is important for them to have a face hereto have personal contact with an individual."
Other students in the program agree, including those whose mentor was the president of the University. Mary Sue Coleman met with her group on a number of occasions, including inviting them to the President's Residence for lunch and a tour, and to football tailgate parties.
"President Coleman was a very good faculty mentor. Despite her obvious professional commitments and busy schedule, she still managed to keep up great e-mail contact with me throughout the year," student Lynn Eckert says.
Student Sylvia Cho credits Coleman and peer mentor Lisa Yang with making her transition from her home in Guam to Michigan much easier.
"In fact, currently I feel like Michigan is my new home," Cho says. "I enjoyed having President Coleman as my mentor because she was always welcoming, eager to listen to our concerns, curious about our academic as well as our social well being, and always had a warm and generous smile on her face," she says.
Cho is one of nearly 300 freshman students in the program this year. Mentorship staff members say more students could be served if more faculty and staff, like Michael Steelman, were interested in helping.
Steelman, assistant program coordinator for Arts at Michigan, is a fairly recent graduate of the School of Music. He remembers how overwhelming the University can be for a freshman.
"I enjoy working with them to help them figure out ways to get the best out of their college experience," Steelman says.
One of his group members was Kathleen Bachynski, who says the most enjoyable activities for her were those involving the arts. She encourages faculty and staff to consider mentorship.
"They get to meet enthusiastic students who are open-minded and willing to try new things, they get to participate in fun activities for free or low cost, and they probably would learn a lot about the University, too," Bachynski says.
For more information on becoming a mentor, visit http://www.onsp.umich.edu/mentorship/ or call Ayanna McConnell at (734) 764-6413.