Team Members: Kelsy Boucher, Terry Eyland, Morgan Gagnon, Heather McKeen-Edwards
Student retention has been an ongoing concern for universities across the country. Several solutions have been proposed to combat attrition, including ensuring students experience a successful transition into university, positive connections with the university community, and mentorship. Academic advising is a proven program that increases chances for student success. However, holistic approaches to support student success have been difficult for universities to implement because of the challenges institutions face coordinating, often very different departments and services, into a cohesive network of support.
Bishop’s University is in the process of designing a holistic approach to not only address issues of retention but to help students reach their best capacities as learners and leaders. Currently, students enrolled in academic programs within the Division of Arts and Science do not have a dedicated Academic Advisor. Departmental Chairs are responsible for administrative duties as well as the necessary academic counseling for the students in their respective programs. However, advising is an integral component of retention and student success and, therefore, requires a substantial amount of time and resources. The current system provides some academic advising but is failing to provide a holistic approach to student learning — a model of learning that builds networks of support around each student to help them reach their own best capacities.
The idea of this project blossomed during a retreat organized and facilitated by our university’s Teaching and Learning Center titled “Partners in Student Success” during the summer of 2015. Since then, the VPAA and HPAM have been consulting with university faculty and staff while creating the training manual and guidelines for the future Academic Mentors. The Academic Peer-Mentorship program is a student-led initiative, driven by the office of the VP Academic in the Student’s Representative Council (SRC), with the support of the Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), Office of the Dean of Student Affairs, and office of the VP Academic. We began working on an initial plan in the Fall 2015 with a goal of launching the program in Fall 2016.
Goals & Outcomes
The initial goal of this program is to offer academic advising to students in the form of peer-mentoring. In Fall 2016, the Academic Peer-Mentoring Program will hire students as peer-mentors for each division and school at Bishop’s. The peer-mentors will hold weekly office hours and be available for student consultations. Consultations would involve providing guidance for academic program requirements, university regulations, appeal processes and etc. Additionally, peer mentors will also be well versed in the student services offered by the university and relevant extracurricular opportunities – creating a holistic service that eliminates boundaries between university silos. This initiative has the potential to have a lasting and positive impact on the Bishop’s community. We hope that its implementation would not only support the responsibilities and work load of our Departmental Chairs, but that it would also have a positive impact on student retention – particularly in regards to academics and student service knowledge dissemination. The Peer-Mentorship program will serve as the initial step towards advocating for and creating an Advising and Retention office. Furthermore, we hope to adopt a holistic approach that ensures students’ receive the necessary academic support, but that they also have access to an all-encompassing service that meets their many other needs as students.
‘Students as Partners in Learning and Teaching’ theme
This project has been student-led: The SRC Vice-President Academic Affairs [VPAA] and the Head-Peer Academic Mentor [HPAM] have taken the lead, but have consulted and collaborated with campus partners across the institution, including deans, faculty, departmental chairs, and non-academic sectors such as the office of student affairs, residence life services, etc. The Change Institute is an excellent opportunity for students and faculty involved and committed to the project to continue these conversations and develop the project in more depth, informed by research and expertise of the teaching and learning community. Furthermore, the process of workshopping our program at the institute will provide an excellent opportunity to establish best practices for future collaborations extending well beyond this Mentorship program.
We plan to send the SRC VPAA and the HPAM. These delegates are both students elected and hired by the University’s Students’ Representative Council. Moreover, Dr. Heather McKeen-Edwards has been a strong voice and resource since the program’s inception – she also provides an immense amount of expertise as she is currently the Departmental Chair for Politics and International and a member of the Teaching and Learning Center (TLC). The final member will also be a member of the TLC.