Institutional data since 1990 indicates that UTB and TSC fail to retain over 250 students from one year to another. Research shows that if students feel like they belong on campus, that they somehow “fit,” the chances of retaining them increases. Research has found that retention rates, or student’s persistence in college, are a function of the degree of the individual student’s integration into academic and social systems, in which both individual and institutional factors play a major role in the interaction. The STING (Students Together, Involving, Networking & Guiding) Peer Mentor Program began as a pilot program implemented Summer I 1998 and is a component of the Student Success Center within the Division of Student Affairs.
Student retention rates have also been found to be affected by (1) the nature and extent to which students relate to faculty and staff outside the classroom, and (2) the degree to which students interact with accessible academic and social support systems.
In an effort to positively impact a student’s transition to college and assist them in achieving their goals, it was decided to implement a peer mentoring program at UTB and TSC, which would target first-time freshman.
The STING Peer Mentor Program helps students learn to function successfully in the college setting by integrating their academic and social life. Peer mentors are trained to assist fellow students in adjusting to, and successfully navigating within the higher education setting. This adjustment process results from peers’ work in orienting students to the learning environment, helping them to apply study skills in their courses, helping them understand learning strategies and participating with them in similar types of activities. The peer mentor’s role as helper takes many forms including student leader, study group leader, advocate and friend to mentees. The key point is that peers are in a position to assist students to help make the educational experience more meaningful and beneficial to other students by sharing their own experiences that have helped them succeed in college.
The target population for the STING Program is first-time freshman who have scored into any level of remediation as a result to failing COMPASS or any alternative college placement exam. These students are required to enroll in the STING support lab. All Developmental Reading and Writing first-time freshman are required to enroll in a STING Class. The Program Coordinator assigns a peer mentor and a staff mentor to each section.
Source of Funding and Facility
A one-semester support lab (SSS 1000 – Student Success Series) was created to implement this program, along with a $75.00 fee charged to each participant to pay for the program costs. This is an approved lab fee, which allows the program to generate tuition monies. These monies are used to hire the UTB and TSC students to work on a part-time basis as Peer Mentors for the STING Program. The lab appears on the UTB and TSC course schedule and students sign up for it during the registration period.
The STING Peer Mentor Program is located Mary Rose Cardenas North Room 122 which is used as the office for the peer mentors to meet with their students. There are also classrooms assigned throughout the campus where the peer mentors meet with their mentees during their scheduled lab times.
Selection of Peer Mentors and Training
The STING Program currently employs approximately 10 peer mentors who work part-time between 16-20 hours a week. All must be UTB and TSC Sophomores, Juniors or Seniors, who maintain a 3.00+ GPA throughout the semester they are employed with the STING Program.
To be selected as a STING Peer Mentor, the UTB and TSC student must complete an application process, which includes:
- an application form
- a recommendation form filled out by UTB and TSC faculty and/or professional staff
- an interview with the STING interview committee consisting of the STING Program Coordinator and at least one other professional staff member.
Currently all peer mentors participate in Level I, Level II and Level III training. The training format consists of workshops headed by the Executive Director of the Student Success Center, as well as the STING Program Coordinator. Each peer mentor must complete their training prior to the onset of each semester and will meet on a weekly basis with the Program Coordinator to discuss program progress. Each training session covers the required topics as outlined for Level I, Level II and Level III certification.
Training is scheduled prior to the onset of every semester. Training is conducted in the North Hall conference rooms by full-time professional staff. There may be times when keynote speakers, who are experts in the training topic being covered, are brought in. When we discuss services available to students in the campus community, we will bring in the Directors of the various support services to address the peer ps, i.e., Counseling Center, Learning Enrichment Center, Student Health Services, Testing Center, Student Life, Financial Aid Office, Career Services and Placement Center and the Academic Advisement Center.
Each peer mentor must complete an initial training program conducted prior to the beginning of each semester and will attend training sessions throughout the academic year. In-service training is provided in such areas as: orientation, UTB and TSC policy and procedures, communication skills, listening skills, establishing and understanding rapport, making referrals, connecting students with faculty and support services, identifying students’ concerns and/or needs, code of ethics, confidentiality, constructive criticism, and connecting students to their campus community. The STING Program Coordinator will keep track of the mentor’s completion of each level of training.
The STING Peer Mentor Program helps participants learn to function successfully in the college setting by integrating their academic and social life. Peer mentors are trained to assist fellow students in adjusting to, and successfully navigating within their higher education setting. This adjustment process results from peers’ work in orienting students to the learning environment, helping them apply study skills in their courses, and participating with them in similar types of activities. The mentor’s role as helper takes many forms including student leader, study group leader, advocate and friend to mentees. The key point is that peer mentors are in a position to assist students, make the educational experience more meaningful and beneficial to other students by sharing their own experiences that have helped them succeed in college. In this sense, peer mentors have a distinct advantage over their professional staff in that they share a common bond with their mentees – the student experience. Overall, at the end of the semester, the final product of the STING Program is the well-rounded UTB and TSC STING student, who has achieved academic success, personal development and is now able to successfully navigate the system at UTB and TSC.
Since the implementation of the STING Peer Mentor Program in Summer I of 1998, the program has been remarkably successful based on the data collected on a semester basis. Students who actively participate in the STING program perform better academically than those students enroll but do not complete the STING program.
During the fall 2011 semester, STING received the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s Star Award. The award recognizes higher education institutions, organizations, groups and individuals for their exceptional contributions toward one or more of the goals of “Closing the Gaps by 2015,” the Texas higher education plan adopted by the board in October 2000. UTB was among 14 finalists chosen by an internal Coordinating Board staff committee from 80 applications sent from across Texas.