By Belinda M. Leon, Ed.D., MBA
Successful preparation for college can be traced as far back as to whether or not the student attended Pre-Kindergarten. After that, there are many points in a student’s school career where key decisions can be made to help the student be academically successful. However, more and more studies are finding that once your child gets to college – something other than financial aid and academic preparedness is needed. College students need a mentor that will provide much needed social support so that the student will stay the path towards graduation and other achievements.
A mentor can help a student choose the appropriate courses, participate in the right extra-curricular activities, and understand how to get problems resolved on campus. But more importantly, a mentor is a source of inspiration. A mentor should be someone that the student can go to when classes get tough, when they are feeling isolated at college, or if they start to lose hope of ever finishing school. Sometimes it is the mere presence of someone in the student’s life that looks like them, speaks like them, and has a similar background like them that will convince the student to keep pursuing success as did their mentor.
In 2014, Gallup surveyed more than 30,000 college graduates and found that among certain elements needed for long-term success, several were related to emotional support. Graduates indicated that if a mentor had encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams, they were more likely to be engaged in their work and thriving overall in their lives. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor that can teach or train someone else on an experience that they have already gone through.
Many low-income and first generation college students struggle with leaving behind poor families; parents that don’t understand the college experience; and a lack of confidence that all weighs heavily on them. Students need a strong cheerleader or role model to help them survive not just that first difficult year of adjustment, but all four years of college.
Stanford University found in a 2011 study that college students who were mentored were 10-15% more likely to continue into the next year of college. Other studies have found that students who develop a positive self-concept through the support of other individuals while in school have a better success rate than students with a high SAT score as a predictor of college graduation. But mentoring can also help high school students!
Since 2005, I have been a mentor for the Women of Tomorrow Mentoring and Scholarship Program here in Miami-Dade County. During its first year of existence, the organization hired an independent psychologist to conduct pre and post self-esteem tests of the mentees. There was a statistically significant increase in the self-esteem for these young women! Year after year, Women of Tomorrow finds that mentoring increases the graduation rate of these high schools students and reduces their drop-out rate.
A particular area of interest is that of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) studies which make up 80% of the fastest growing jobs in the United States. Statistics show that women, especially minority women, are greatly lacking in field of STEM. The Girl Scouts of United States of American found that it is typical for girls to not even attempt harder courses in the fields of science or math simply from a lack of confidence. University of Michigan Professor Eileen Pollack (2013) states that “the most powerful determinant of whether a woman goes on in science might be whether anyone encourages her to go on.” Technology company CDW surveyed 300 women who were STEM students, graduates, or STEM “dropouts” and found that bringing in more female role models (58% reported) and connecting STEM students with influential females in STEM (55% reported) would help empower women to graduate from STEM majors (Devaney, 2016).
Find a mentor for your student. It may be a family member, a neighbor, a friend, or someone through a formal mentoring program. The support and guidance that a mentor can provide is invaluable. This is the person that your student will remember years later as having influenced them to make the right decisions and more importantly- to not give up their dreams and aspirations while they work hard to graduate.