Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Effects of Peer Mentorship on Student Leadership

Academic journal article Honors in Practice

Effects of Peer Mentorship on Student Leadership

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

Orienting and welcoming first-year students to campus and to honors programs are often key components of program development. At an institutional level, successful orientation programs can positively affect retention rates from the first to second year. The greater a student's involvement and integration into the life of the university, the less likely the student is to leave (Tinto). Institutional retention often translates into retention within honors programs as well. The most important benefit of orientation, however, is that students feel welcomed at the university and within the honors program. Not only do they understand the requirements of the program, but they also make friends and begin to envision how they might use their honors program experience to grow as scholars and citizens while also having a bit of fun in the process. In an attempt to achieve all of these goals, the honors program at Minnesota State University, Mankato established a first-year honors student retreat incorporating peer mentors.

During summer orientation, new students meet with an honors staff member to discuss courses and the program's curriculum. Students then enroll in an introductory course that facilitates personal reflection and exploration in the three competency areas of leadership, research, and global citizenship. Feedback from this introductory course consistently indicated that students wanted to learn about the program curriculum and their competency development in a way that was more interactive with older students and that got them outside of the physical classroom. In response to this feedback, honors program staff began to learn about first-year retreat programs at other universities and brainstorm ideas about what might work best for students at MSU, Mankato.

In the fall of 2014, the staff worked together to create the first honors student retreat. The program already had an established group of peer mentors whom we decided to empower as leaders of the retreat. Staff and mentors decided to schedule the retreat early in the academic year so that students could become involved with the program outside of the classroom relatively quickly. Early involvement is crucial because failure to participate in campus activities, organizations, and extracurricular activities, which promote integration into college life, can lead to higher chances of attrition for some students (Roberts & McNeese). With more input from student leaders and a more formalized process in the fall of 2015, students and staff have created a sustainable program that allows first-year students to learn and have fun while at the same time it promotes leadership skills and provides mentorship opportunities for older students.

The rationale behind the first-year student retreat, the procedures for organizing and facilitating it, and its impact on both first-year students and mentors might inspire other honors programs to implement high-impact practices that facilitate successful student transition into college.

THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES

All honors programs are comprehensive umbrellas under which many high-impact educational practices take place Many such practices that were highlighted by Kuh in 2008 can be found within the MSU, Mankato Honors Program: learning communities; undergraduate research; diversity and global learning; and capstone courses and projects. The retreat adds a high-impact practice for first-year students. Leichliter has argued that "providing intentional, rigorous, and intellectually challenging educational opportunities for students to develop leadership skills is arguably a core mission of honors programs and colleges" (155), and the retreat has helped fulfill our honors program's mission by providing an outlet for older students to challenge themselves in a peer mentor role.

The honors student retreat is both a first-year experience and a common intellectual experience. …

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