Berkeley Today Stories
The program takes a holistic approach to helping students reach beyond academic performance to address social and personal concerns.
Mentoring Program Shows Promise at Berkeley College
Last year, Khaliyah Lee-Campbell had a problem. Like many college students, she could not afford the books she needed for the academic quarter. But where other students may have dropped classes – or worse, dropped out of school – Ms. Lee-Campbell was able to turn to the Berkeley College Mentoring Program for help.
The Berkeley College Mentoring Program, implemented as a pilot program at the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year to help students stay in college, takes a more holistic approach than programs at many other colleges. Instead of only focusing on issues that impact academic performance, the Mentoring Program intervenes wherever necessary – from social concerns to personal issues.
Ms. Lee-Campbell met with Mahshid Khavari, one of two full-time mentors, who made sure the student obtained the copies of the books she needed. Now Ms. Lee-Campbell maintains a 3.80 grade point average, is regularly named to the Dean’s List, and was recently accepted into the Berkeley College Honors Program, a selective educational opportunity offered to a limited number of high-achieving students.
“Having someone in your corner, rooting for your success, pushes you to stay determined,” Ms. Lee-Campbell said of the Mentoring Program, where she still finds confidence and motivation. “Knowing Mahshid sees potential in me, I began to realize that potential.”
At the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year, mentors at Berkeley College in Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan were each assigned a caseload of 80 first-time, full-time college students – those most at risk of dropping out. Under the guidance of Donald Kieffer, Ph.D., Dean, Berkeley College School of Liberal Arts, who has experience as a clinical psychologist, the mentors learned that many of the factors that impact academic success are not strictly academic.
“Our students are not just dealing with academic difficulties,” said Ms. Khavari. “My students have social concerns, real-life concerns, personal concerns, and more.”
The mentors said these issues could include anything from being a single parent to not having access to a computer.
“Learning about students’ concerns enables us to understand what factors have been affecting their academic performance,” she said.
Student David Smith said the Mentoring Program helped him become more involved in activities on campus. His mentor also helped him prepare for the job market.
“When I was nervous about an interview, my mentor conducted mock interviews that raised my confidence level,” he said.
Mr. Smith, who is studying Business Administration – Management, aced his interview and is currently employed at Brooklyn Victory Garden, a Clinton Hill destination for locally and sustainably sourced products.
Partners for student success
As part of the mentors’ training, they reached out to representatives from campus-based departments such as Academic Advisement, Financial Aid, Student Development and Campus Life, and the Center for Academic Success, to learn about the different services offered to students and to explain the Mentoring Program. The mentors asked that associates reach out if there were any signs a student was struggling.
“So many associates at Berkeley have expressed how rewarding it is to feel like they’ve impacted our students,” said Marina Sharova, one of the mentors. “There is absolutely no legitimate reason why a student should feel invisible.”
Both mentors have a well-utilized open-door policy. About 75 percent of mentees in the pilot program elected to meet with their mentors face-to-face, while others connected via phone, texting, or e-mail.
Mentees are also linked with other students with similar interests and backgrounds so they can mutually support each other. As word spread about the Mentoring Program, even students who were not mentees sought out the mentors for support.
During the pilot program, a number of mentees expressed thoughts about withdrawing from school when faced with roadblocks – academic or otherwise. But according to Dr. Kieffer, interventions by the mentors and other Berkeley College departments were vital in keeping these students enrolled.
“Having such strong positive influences early in the program is encouraging,” said Dr. Kieffer.
Results of the pilot study showed sufficient promise to expand the Mentoring Program to Berkeley College locations in White Plains, NY, and Newark, NJ, for the 2015-16 academic year.
“My hope is for every single Berkeley freshman to be assigned a mentor so that they have an advocate who will help them build a strong foundation for their collegiate journey,” Ms. Sharova said.
(L to R): Marina Sharova and Mahshid Khavari help students through the Berkeley College Mentoring Program, which takes a holistic approach to keeping students enrolled.