Winter 2021 — When Stephanie Hasan arrived at Oregon State University as a first-year student in fall 2018, she received a lot of communications about student opportunities. One in particular caught her eye. It was an email from the dean of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences inviting her to participate in a brand new faculty-student mentoring program. The program would connect her with both a faculty member and a student peer mentor for the year.
“I would love to expand my social network and find my place here,” Stephanie thought.
She clicked on the link and completed a brief survey. Stephanie was placed in a team with other new-to-OSU students and matched with mentors.
By the end of her first year, Stephanie had shed her tendency to be shy and introverted. She had learned to take initiative, speak first and be confident in herself. “It was a complete 180-degree turnaround,” she says.
Stephanie Hasan, a participant in the Beaver Connect program, talks with Program Coordinator Caitlin McVay.
And by her sophomore year, Stephanie’s role had changed from mentee to peer mentor.
“When I think back to my freshman year, I didn’t think I would be so involved,” she says. “I am so glad I opened that email.”
Oregon State has used mentoring in different forms for many years, and colleges have different mentoring programs. Beaver Connect is the first formal cross-university mentoring program. It was proposed by the Undergraduate Student Success Initiative steering committee in 2018 and launched that fall as a pilot.
“Connection to faculty is one of the things students cite as important to their college experience,” says Caitlin McVay, the program coordinator for Beaver Connect.
Beaver Connect, which is now housed in the Educational Opportunities Program, is open to all new Oregon State students, including first-year and transfer students. Students of color, first-generation and Pell Grant-eligible students are especially welcome. Participation is voluntary.
A lot of new students don’t feel comfortable talking to professors and miss out on the chance to build a support network to help them succeed. Based on results from the first two years of the program, students who were matched with faculty and peer mentors had higher retention rates and GPAs. Survey responses also indicated that participants had an easier transition to college. In 2020, Beaver Connect received the Beacon Award for Excellence in Student Achievement and Success from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Another outcome is the benefits for students who serve as mentors, especially those who participated as mentees in their first year. They receive a small stipend for the 10 hours per term they meet with students. Since the program is designed for student mentors to co-lead, they gain communication and leadership skills, continue building relationships and gain confidence as they interact with others at the university.
“I love to see students who participate in the first year turn around and continue as mentors,” McVay says. “They have been able to deepen the relationships with the faculty mentors. It’s incredibly meaningful.”
Vicki Ebbeck, Ph.D., is a professor and associate dean for student success with the College of Public Health and Human Sciences. She’s also a faculty mentor for Beaver Connect. Ebbeck answered the call for volunteers sent from one of the mentoring program’s champions, Roy Hagerty, dean of the College of Science. As is the case with students, faculty participation is voluntary.
Ebbeck thought the experience would be mostly about conversations and covering topics. Now she finds herself looking forward to mentoring meetings.
“In reality, the relationships developed are central and foremost to the experience,” she says.
Ebbeck has benefitted from mentors in her career and believes in the power of these relationships. And she gains insights from the students to help her to better understand their experiences. She witnesses the positive outcomes, including in Stephanie, her former mentee and now co-leader.
“I continue to be impressed with our students, not only in terms of their achievements and contributions, but also regarding their ability to navigate challenges and be open to personal growth,” Ebbeck says.
Ebbeck recalls how a student she was mentoring felt like they didn’t belong at graduation because their degree did not align with their career path. Ebbeck turned the next mentoring meeting into an opportunity to talk about the importance of graduating and how attending the ceremony was important. Later, she saw the student at commencement.
“It was rewarding to see the student taking the moment to recognize what they had accomplished and participate in an honored tradition that not everybody gets to experience,” she says. “When you are part of Beaver Nation, you are forever a part of something bigger than yourself.”