Research shows that college students are more successful when someone takes a special interest in their aspirations and progress. Placing student experience at the forefront of the college’s transformation, the Polytechnic created mentorship programs in which students receive outside-the-classroom professional guidance and support.
TECH 12000, Design Thinking, offers the initial dose of this type of mentorship to first-year students. This core course includes a team project entailing problem identification, ideation and creation. Beyond the course instructors, additional faculty and professional staff not affiliated with the course serve as project team mentors, meet separately with the students, and help guide them through their project. This not only improves student learning, but also shows students the value of mentorship.
Second- and third-year students have the option to participate in a long-term, one-on-one opportunity to have a faculty member assigned as their mentor, steering them toward success by providing professional guidance and support throughout the school year. More than 200 students have participated in this program during the last 12 months.
A formal program for faculty and students
Like all academic departments in the college, some faculty in the Department of Computer and Information Technology (CIT) had already been serving as informal mentors to students. The Polytechnic’s new programs formalized faculty-to-student mentorship, providing more structure while ensuring all students have the opportunity to participate.
tudents can elect to keep the same mentor each year, or they can choose to work with a different mentor. Mentorship can also be cross-departmental, as faculty may be assigned students from another department.
John Springer, associate professor of computer and information technology, says faculty-to-student mentorship drives home the realization that learning is, at its core, a social activity.
“You learn things from each other,” said Springer, “not through osmosis, but through written or verbal communication.”
Faculty like Springer take a more deliberate, intentional approach to mentoring students. This means setting aside time for mentored students and maintaining that faculty-student connection. Interactions within the mentorship focus on a range of topics or issues. Based on an individual student’s needs, faculty provide guidance on schoolwork, university life, career planning and more.
“This is a process they’re going through,” said Springer. “We’re preparing our students for their start in the world, and there’s so much more to that than what is in the classroom.”
Springer noted that the questions students ask of their mentors can keep faculty on their toes. Polytechnic students in particular will stay abreast of changing and emerging technologies, which can challenge professors to focus on their own continuing education.
“We have awesome students,” added Springer. “They mentor me, too.”
Building meaningful connections
John Michael Davis, assistant professor of practice in the School of Aviation and Transportation Technology, typically serves as a formal mentor to three or four Polytechnic students each year. As part of the mentorship process, Davis meets with each student individually and also schedules time for everyone to get together as a group.
It has been a great experience. Faculty mentors know so many ways to help you with schoolwork and even with life. And they’re not as scary and unreachable as we think.
- Madison Haller
junior, mechanical engineering technology
“We meet one-on-one and we cross paths often, but I try to get them all together at least once or twice each semester,” said Davis. “They can talk with each other and share experiences, and we can discuss the issues they’re having.”
For Davis, the classroom is but one part of the faculty-to-student mentorship process. The entire Polytechnic experience sets students up for their future careers, and mentoring gives students better access to the life lessons that faculty – many with broad, far-reaching careers in various industries – have already learned.
Davis agrees that mentorship has benefited from the transformation of the Polytechnic and the college’s focus on building meaningful connections between faculty and students. Aside from academic and career advice, students benefit from the realization that Polytechnic faculty understand what they are going through. The benefits don’t flow in just one direction, however; the mentorship program also helps faculty gain more insight into the challenges their students face and the questions they have.
“I enjoy talking with these students to get their perspective and to find out if we’re truly meeting their needs,” said Davis. “They keep me fresh.”
All indications point to the successful transformation of the Polytechnic.
With a focus on innovative learning methods, hands-on experiences and industry partnerships, these 10 Elements of Transformation drive the Polytechnic Institute’s dedication to impactful technology education.