Campus Community / People of SU

Igniting a Community

Written by Tina Potterf

June 3, 2020

Campus-oriented mentorship program eases transition to college life for first-year students.

Image credit: Yosef Chaim Kalinko

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At Seattle University, mentors play an invaluable role in enveloping students in the care and sense of community that can prove vital as they navigate the first weeks of campus life.

For many incoming students, the first year of college can seem overwhelming, with juggling classes, activities, meeting new people and finding their footing.

The transition from high school to college can be made easier with a support network. At Seattle University, mentors play an invaluable role in enveloping students in the care and sense of community that can prove vital as they navigate the first weeks of campus life.

One such coalition of mentors comes through the Ignite Mentorship Program, which began in fall 2018 and pairs first-time full-time and transfer students with a staff, faculty or graduate student mentor. Mentors and mentees typically meet twice monthly for the duration of their first year at Seattle U, building a collaborative relationship and providing navigational support, says Michelle Etchart, assistant vice president of Student Development. Since its inception, roughly 200 students have been paired up with a mentor.

With COVID-19 requiring social distancing and remote instruction, the disconnect of in-person contact for students and their mentors at a time when connection may be needed most presented some unique challenges.

“Ignite participants typically meet in person and since we’ve moved to remote instruction have tried a number of creative ways to stay connected during this time, such as Zoom video chats, snail mail, text messaging and more,” says Maya Herran, graduate coordinator for Student Success Initiatives, Student Success & Outreach in Student Development. “We want students to know that even though we’re not on campus, we’re here to support them.”

According to research conducted by Gallup Purdue, students can benefit greatly from mentorship. It shows that students who have a mentor in college are more likely to be engaged meaningfully in their careers as alumni and thrive in the six dimensions of wellness: emotional, occupational, social, physical, intellectual and spiritual.

While the program is only two years old, there is evidence that those who participated in Ignite were more likely to return to Seattle U the following quarter or academic year.

“Ignite provides an opportunity for faculty and staff to build a deeper, more intentional relationship with a student on campus,” Herran says. “As a mentor in the program myself, I've found this to be hugely rewarding.”

As spring quarter nears its end and thoughts turn to fall quarter and what it may look like amid the continuance of the pandemic—the quarter may be a mix of in-person and online courses, amid other options being discussed—the team behind the Ignite Mentorship Program says creativity and flexibility will be the prevailing norm.
 
“While I think many of our mentors miss the opportunity to meet with mentees in person and will welcome that back, I also see the creativity that we all are using to connect with those around us, both within the Ignite Mentorship Program and beyond,” Herran says. “I hope that we can keep that creativity as we move forward and continue to adapt to upcoming campus changes.”

Adds Etchart, “We’re really grateful for the ways that Ignite Mentors have adapted to stay connected with students in a time that feels really challenging for us all."

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