Mentoring in higher education

A lot of colleges are initiating mentor programs at the undergraduate and graduate level because they can benefit students in a number of ways. They can help them navigate a new environment, assist with school work, help students find people of a similar culture, or prepare them for their future career. These programs take on all shapes at the university level. Many students come to college with no true idea of what they want to do with their life. If they are paired with a professional or peer mentor that has more experience, they can leave college with direction and maybe even lab or work experience to get them started on their career. If they moved here from another country, maybe a peer mentor can help them find people from the same culture and help them adjust to the differences in everyday life.

Despite mentoring programs having a number of benefits, they require a lot of work, money, and time. If they aren’t formatted properly, mentors and mentees can feel like they have to go to something that they don’t really want to go to. If the organizer doesn’t put any time or money into the program, the relationship falls apart and no one benefits.  A lot of the time, mentoring works best when the relationship forms naturally. Some people don’t necessarily want a mentor or don’t feel like they need one and so they feel uncomfortable being assigned one.

From my experience with mentoring programs, they have never ended well but have always had good intentions. For example, this semester I participated in the Virginia Tech Early  Engineering Mentoring program as a mentor. The program is put on by the College of Engineering graduate school and pairs new graduate students with existing graduate students. I volunteered as a way of giving back to the University that I felt has been great for me and my career. In my undergrad, I participated in a mentor program for incoming international students. The program paired us up with students through email and expected the relationship to take off from there. Naturally, I met with my mentee once and we never met again. The program at VT was much better but resulted in the relationship being forced.

There are of course other types of mentoring that can happen in universities. If a student works under a professor for research, the professor can become a professional mentor for that student. These types of relationships are much better because the student is actively seeking out a mentor with the intention of gaining experience and knowledge allowing a more organic relationship to transpire.

My thoughts from this post come from an article posted on The Chronicle of Higher Education:



The recent Harvard lawsuit

I have been following the lawsuit against Harvard over race-based admission processes and the effect it has on Asian American applicants, over the course of the semester.  For anyone who is not familiar with the case – a group called the Students for Fair Admissions is suing Harvard for requiring Asian applicants to have higher GPA and SAT scores than applicants of other racial and ethnic backgrounds. They also assert that Harvard assigns personal ratings to its applicants and that Asian applicants are typically rated lower than other applicants. The case has gone through the courts and now we are waiting on the ruling which could take several months.

What this case is actually determining is the place for affirmative action in higher education. The plaintiffs claim that they support diversity in academia but what they also want from the court is “a permanent injunction prohibiting Harvard from using race as a factor in future undergraduate admissions decisions.” If this case goes in the favor of the plaintiffs, it could be the end of affirmative action in admissions processes. No matter the ruling, both sides say they are going to appeal.

This is not the first time a case has come against affirmative action. In 1996, it was ruled in California that race can’t be used in admissions processes. It came to the courts because California was seeing a lot of students that weren’t prepared for college (or maybe they weren’t prepared for them…?) This resulted in a decrease in the paucity of Black and Hispanic students that were currently being accepted in the California school system. There have also been other small cases, such as those that ruled that hard race quotas can’t be set for an incoming class. But the California case is an example of what could happen if affirmative action is repealed.

Do the Asian American’s have a case? I think they do, and this stems from the personal rating scores. However, it doesn’t seem that the personal rating scores are something that can be changed by Harvard. Harvard determines the personal rating scores from the applicant’s recommendation letters. These are often written by teachers, mentors, and guidance counselors. Harvard can’t change what these letters say and they base the scores on the same metric as all other applicants. However, we are measuring what is said to be a minority group on the same metrics as other students. In the acceptance process, it is clear that admissions officers allow leeway to students that have had difficulties in their life or don’t come from an upper-middle-class family. Maybe, the same acceptions need to be made for Asian applicants. They likely have a different culture than white Americans so maybe it isn’t fair to measure them along that same metric.

The future of the university

With each passing year, students attend college to earn a degree that prepares them for their future job all the while, student loan debt grows to over a trillion dollars. Students leave their universities with their shiny new degrees and enter the workforce bright-eyed and ready to please. But more often than not, these students are not prepared for the required tasks of even an entry-level position. Students are graduating with four-year degrees and forced into a part-time position with poor pay and no health insurance until they gain that experience. Some decide to go to graduate school to specialize but most master’s degrees don’t pay a stipend meaning that these students rack up more loan debt.

This has to change.

This is not sustainable.

It won’t stay like this.

Because it can’t.

But these problems are just as much a problem with universities as they are with the government, the economy, and the health care system. Already, we are talking about universal health care and free college. Higher education will be entirely free in the state of New York for residents of New York for student families that make under $125,000 a year. This amount encapsulates a large proportion of the middle to low-income residents of NY which are those that are coming out of college with the largest amount of debt. I imagine more and more states will move toward this model eventually leaving more states with this model than those without. People will start to move to states with this model and other states will have to follow to save their economy.

To touch on students coming out of college ill-prepared to handle an entry-level job: Some schools have incorporated an internship or co-op requirement in their curriculum. While this is incredibly important, it is also adding time to earn some degrees which is adding more debt on young Americans whom are just starting their lives and have nothing. This can be combatted by making school more trade-like. Students would take classes on top of working with a local company or in more lab-like, hands-on environments (for schools in small towns with no companies). And this would be started early rather than being done for just ten weeks the summer before their senior year of college. If they are afforded the opportunity to work with a local company in their future job of choice then companies would pay them for their work. Either of these methods would prepare students early for their future job and could mitigate the need for 2-5 years of experience on a job posting.