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February 2005 Issue

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Mentoring: Bridging Cultural Gaps to a Successful College Career

By Vincent Bruno (LaGuardia Community College/CUNY), Steve Dauz (LaGuardia Community College/CUNY), David Gechlik (Empire State College/SUNY) 

The Mentoring Program at LaGuardia Community College was established by the 1st Year Committee in January 2001 to help acclimate and service a culturally diverse student population representing 167 countries. This transition into this re-socialization process involves culture shock, language acquisition, and internalization of academic, bureaucratic, and social norms as well as the values and expectation of college life (Chaskes, 1996). As we enter our third year, the program continues to work towards connecting peer, faculty and staff mentors with new students. The Mentoring Program is one of the interventions that have a broad impact on a significant number of new students. According to Lang (2001), one of the six broad categories to enhance the retention of multicultural campuses is mentoring programs. The intent is to provide students with a personal contact on the campus for guidance and advice. In addition to Mentoring, the First Year Committee also has linked Learning Communities, Opening Sessions, Common Readings, Summer Program and E-Portfolio together to create a comprehensive experience for new students. LaGuardia has recently been recognized as one of the top 13 colleges awarded the Institution of Excellence Award 2002 from The Policy Center on the First Year of College. During this period, over 1500 students were matched with mentors to enable the mentees to begin their college career on a positive note and over 4000 students have participated in various 1st Year activities. 

The original vision of the Mentoring Program was to establish a one to one relationship for new students by connecting them to programs and services for their first semester at the college. The program has expanded its purview to include: mentoring students in Learning Communities; helping high school graduates by easing their transition to college through the Summer Program; utilizing peer mentors to act as role models for mentees on academic probation; and establish an E-Mentoring service for all evening students. 

The college offers a wide array of training for potential faculty, staff and peer mentors. Training workshops are available for all faculty and staff who express an interest in being a mentor. All faculty and staff members are volunteers and provide their services as a contribution to the college community. Students are matched with mentors in a variety of ways: those who share similar cultural and/or language backgrounds; by major and career interest. Training for peer mentors includes: the three-credit “Mentoring: The Helping Hand” course; a four–session workshop; advance training series; and the soon to be developed on-line blackboard sessions. In addition, mentors are trained to be aware of stereotypes, understand diversity, identity learning disabilities and become self knowledgeable. Self knowledge is the most important intercultural competency for a mentor to possess. Those who become conscious of their own values and assumptions and critically examine them will be rewarded with a deeper understanding of their own behavior (Mezirirow, 1978). Once trained peer mentors receive a stipend and are required to record and reflect on the results of their mentoring interventions. This ensures a means to assess the impact of the mentoring relationship in addition to measuring quality control. 

An assessment pilot has yielded preliminary results which reinforces a positive impact of mentoring on mentees and has shown that students who receive mentoring are retained at a higher rate (18%) during their first year over the students who did not participate in the program. In addition, according to the findings of the 2002 ACT Opinion Survey, mentees report being more satisfied than other students in receiving assistance when entering the college. Students who received mentoring feel a sense of concern by the college as an individual and feeling satisfied with the college in general. 

Listed below is a glimpse of the qualitative research study taken of students’ reflections on their mentoring experience. Reflection is used as a tool to stay the course and focus attention on relationships and learning (Zachary, 2000).

• “My mentor has been instrumental in my success during my first year of college. As an international student, the American college culture was entirely new to me and I felt like a ‘fish out of water’. The advice and counsel I received allowed me to stay focused as a student. I have been on the Dean’s list for my first two semesters and I am looking forward to being on it for the rest of my college life.”— Student from the West Indies

• “Since I was given a Mentor my GPA increased tremendously. I hope I will be able to work with my mentor throughout my college career. He helped me academically as well as in my personal affairs.” – Student from China

Besides a strong impact on mentees, positive statements from mentors reinforce the success of the program;

• “I found that being a mentor enable me to play a positive role in the student’s first semester at LaGuardia. It allowed me to help the mentee understand the policies and procedures of the college.” -- LaGuardia Faculty

• “Mentoring is a golden opportunity to meet and help students as they begin their journey at LaGuardia. The knowledge that you can make a difference is enormously satisfying. Each new student that I work with gives me a chance to grow and learn.” -- LaGuardia Staff Member

The Mentoring Program will continue to address the obstacles that community colleges have traditionally faced with respect to uncertain funding resources, retention and persistence, and academic and social integration. Grant opportunities will provide the needed funding to offset cost factors involved in facilitating the mentoring program. Retention efforts will be strengthened by having mentors help entering 1st year students make meaningful connections to the college and their academic programs. Research has found the decision to leave college or change schools is solidified at some point during the first year, often within the first six to eight weeks of the first semester (Odell, 1996). In addition, mentors provide an avenue for our multicultural student body to integrate into our diverse college community.

The future direction of the Mentoring Program is to help bridge First Year Programs to Second Year initiatives at the college. This seamless road needs to address the disparities students feel after their 1st year. The initial sense of euphoria created by the 1st year programs need to mature into personal satisfaction and realistic on track goals for graduation. 

Studies have also described environments which seem to contribute to students’ successful completion of undergraduate degrees. The academic environment in which a student learns is important, as is the social integration of that student. Pascarella, Smart, and Ethington (1986) examined long-term persistence of two-year college students. In their study they found that two variables, academic and social integration, consistently had positive effects on persistence and completion of a degree. They conclude that, “Other things being equal, the greater the individual student’s level of integration into the social and academic systems of the college, the greater his or her subsequent commitment to the college and the goal of college graduation respectively” (p.49). Mentoring can and does play a key role in the social integration of students throughout their academic experience.

Other directions will include the expansion of our Mentoring Training Program by incorporating leadership skills and diversity awareness components. Also we will explore the utilization of technology in order to enhance E-mentoring and to extend services to include the continuing student population that have been identified as academically at risk. In addition, recruitment of alumni mentors who will focus on graduating students with respect to transfer and career goals will round off this comprehensive Mentoring Program. 


Chaskes, J. (1996). The First-Year Student as an Immigrant. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience and Student Transition, 8(1), 79-91.

Lang, M. (2001). Student Retention in Higher Education: Some Conceptual and Programmatic Perspectives. Journal of College Student Retention Vol. 13 num. 3224-225.

Mezirow, J. (1978) “Perspective Transformation.” Adult Education, February 1978.

Odell, P.M. (1996). Avenues to Success in College: A Non-Credit Eight –Week Freshman Seminar. Journal of the Freshman Year Experience, 8, 19-92.

Pascarella, E.T., Smart, J. and Ethington, C. (1986). Long-term persistence of two-year college students. Research in Higher Education, 24(1), 47-71.

Schreiner, L. A. and Pattengale, J. (2000). Visible Solutions for Invisible Students: Helping Sophomores Succeed Monograph Series # 31.

Zachary, L. J. (2000). To everything there is a Season. The Mentor’s Guide, 56.


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