Like many Mentor Collective partners around the country, Central Michigan University (CMU) entered the post-pandemic academic year with an eye toward deepening the connection between their students and their institution. A high-impact practice they landed on was scaling their pocketed mentorship programs by partnering with Mentor Collective.
“One of the things that our students notice most about us is our sense of community," said Jennifer DeHaemers, Vice President of Student Recruitment, Retention, and Student Affairs, Central Michigan University. "We lift each other up and we really look to support each other, but we knew we could do better. That’s part of why we decided to partner with Mentor Collective."
Joining us for the presentation were members of both the Mentor Collective and CMU teams:
Jennifer DeHaemers, Vice President of Student Recruitment, Retention, and Student Affairs, Central Michigan University
James Span, Jr., Executive Director of Student Inclusion and Diversity, Central Michigan University
Eric Schueller, University Relations Director, Mentor Collective
Increased Retention Based on Research
One of CMU’s main goals in establishing a more concrete and measurable mentorship program was to work to turn around an enrollment decline that the university has been facing for a few years. They decided to focus on increasing their retention rate from around 75 percent to a goal of over 80 percent.
“It comes down to a sense a belonging, and that’s what we can address with a mentoring program," said DeHaemers.
Making Mentorship Work Better
CMU already had several mentorship programs in place, but they knew they could make them work better for more students.
“The five mentoring programs we had in place were all on the small side, and they all served specific groups, but we wanted to make a broader impact,” said DeHaemers.
DeHaemers called on the expertise of their institutional research team, the Office of Academic Planning and Analysis, to examine their retention data. They discovered that students of color were not retaining or persisting to graduation at the same rate as their white peers, despite no differences in academic preparation or financial need. In addition, first-generation students were also falling behind, with a retention rate more than 10 percentage points below CMU’s average.
“It came down to a sense a belonging, and that’s what we can address with a strategic mentoring program,” said DeHaemers. “How can make the biggest difference for all students—including students of color and first-generation students—to get that retention up?”
Engaging Campus Stakeholders
DeHaemers and her colleague James Span, Jr. brought campus-wide stakeholders into the conversation early to ensure buy-in for the Mentor Collective partnership. They engaged members of the Provost, Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, and the Division of Student Recruitment and Retention offices to expedite the process and get their resources in place.
“One of the concepts we promote at CMU is ‘One Central,’ and this was a great opportunity to put that into practice,” said Span, Jr. “Lots of departments were involved in rolling out this project, and key individuals across campus linked their resources to the greater good. We were all able to be good campus partners together and role model that for the university as a whole.”
“Lots of departments were involved in rolling out the Mentor Collective project, and key individuals across campus linked their resources to the greater good,” said Span, Jr.
Measurable Success in a Short Timeframe
In a mere two weeks, CMU’s Mentor Collective program launched in May 2021 with a goal to increase retention and sense of belonging among students by targeting first-years and transfer students before they even arrived on campus. The mentors were upper-division peers, and the two groups were matched based on their academic majors, shared challenges, and career interests.
More than 50 percent of the incoming class signed up for the Mentor Collective program, showing high engagement throughout the lifecycle of the program. Nearly 13,000 text messages have been exchanged, along with approximately 2,650 conversations logged on topics from academics to school life to careers.
“It was incredible—we had 400–500 students who signed up for the program over the first weekend,” said Bell. “There was a huge appetite for mentorship in the CMU community. It’s a bidirectional relationship: Yes, mentees are getting help and support from mentors, but they in turn get a sense of altruism in serving their peers in an important way.”
CMU’s leaders, for one, weren’t surprised with the popularity of mentorship among their community.
“Our students genuinely care about each other,” said Span, Jr. “There is a strong, familial-type atmosphere at CMU. Despite a global pandemic and students having more physical distance between themselves and the campus, they saw an opportunity that fit into who they are organically. They care for the institution and the family they have here, and they responded like gangbusters.”
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