What's in a name?
By Steven Powell
RAs working in campus residence halls got an updated moniker not too long ago, but it wasn’t a piece of spin dreamt up by an eager PR flack.
“It was the students themselves who decided that they were more mentors than advisers or assistants,” says executive director of university housing Kirsten Kennedy. “Seven years ago, they actually asked to change the name.”
The change from “resident adviser” to “resident mentor,” or RM, reflected how much importance and reach the position had come to have for students, particularly freshmen. The 275 RMs on campus help educate residents about the numerous opportunities on campus, whether academic, service or social. Through structured conversations and day-to-day interactions, they also help identify students who might be having a hard time adjusting.
Abby Reilly’s freshman year involved that kind of adjustment. Arriving as a marine science major, she soon switched to photography but still felt out of place. Becoming an RM as a sophomore and serving as one for three years turned out to be a defining part of her Carolina experience.
“I really liked working in housing, especially the counseling and mentoring aspects of the position,” she says. “I was able to focus on students who were having a really tough transition because I had a tough transition myself. I loved that aspect because I had been in the same shoes.”
Graduating in 2014 with a degree in psychology, Reilly worked for Ameri Corps VISTA for a year before beginning the master’s program in human development at the University of Rhode Island this fall. As someone planning a career in student affairs, she says the name change is an unqualified positive.
“There are very few universities that actually use that name in housing — ‘resident mentors.’ People ask me about it,” Reilly says. “So what I tell them is that it makes us more peer leaders and makes us really take the mentoring aspect more seriously. Saying you’re a resident assistant makes it sound more structured, more of an authority figure. Bringing on that mentor title really humanized the position.”
Get on the MAPP
Peer mentoring builds community
By Chris Horn
Before starting his freshman year at Carolina, Jon McClary heard about the university’s Multicultural Assistance Peer Program and the opportunity to be mentored by an older student.
“Both of my parents went to college, so I kind of knew what to expect, but I thought it would be beneficial,” says McClary, a senior public health major. “I learned a lot from my mentor and still stay in contact with him today. He allowed me to grow without being overbearing.”
MAPP was established for the Columbia campus’ 17 percent minority undergraduate enrollment, but it’s open to everyone. Students are matched with trained mentors, many of whom are in the same academic major as their mentees. In addition to twice monthly meetings for participants, MAPP sponsors etiquette dinners, finals week get-togethers and other events aimed at building community.
McClary not only liked having a MAPP mentor, he became one himself the next year — and the next year and the next. “I call them my kids,” he says. “It’s rewarding to see them grow. I feel like an older brother.”
That sense of belonging and community is at the heart of MAPP’s mission, says program director Nakia Strickland. “Students learn about the program during orientation and from family and friends. We’ve got about 120 freshmen and 40 mentors this fall,” she says. “Last year was a my first class of students, so I’m interested in comparing retention and persistence rates of the students we mentor and the general student population.”
If McClary’s experience is any indication, Strickland will probably find that MAPP’s mission is being accomplished.
“I’ve never felt like I wasn’t at home here,” McClary says. “That’s the greatest asset of this program.”
Expanding the Rolodex
Mentor network helps women help women
By Page Ivey
As a theater and speech major at the University of South Carolina in the early 1990s, Kim McMahon signed up for a mentor through USC’s Women’s Mentor Network. Now McMahon is on the opposite side of the equation.
Now director of Campus Life and the Russell House University Union, McMahon oversees the university’s leadership and service programs, which include the Women’s Mentor Network. Over the years, she has also been a mentor to several students herself.
“I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t have a mentor,” she says. “If I can help somebody else have that ‘Aha!’ moment, I want to do it.”
According to McMahon, most of the students who sign up for the Women’s Mentor Network are looking for a faculty member who can help them in their fields, but they also need gentle guidance from all types of professionals, especially from other women who have achieved successful careers.
That’s where the network comes in, playing matchmaker for hundreds of students and faculty and staff mentors every semester. As McMahon explains, “It’s hard for students to walk up to someone and say, ‘Hey, would you be my mentor?’”
And students aren’t the only beneficiaries. Faculty and staff also get something from the program.
Kathryn Luchok, a research professor in the anthropology department with a joint appointment in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, says she joined the Women’s Mentor Network because she missed interacting one-on-one with undergraduates.
“I like nothing better than working with students,” she says. “Mentoring is my specialty. In the beginning, I was prompted to join the network by my need to once again be a mentor.”
Luchok, who has also developed mentoring relationships with students she advises on research projects, says the relationships are different from one student to the next.
“With one I would talk with her about career opportunities and general life things like her boyfriend, her family,” Luchok says. “It wasn’t just about academic mentoring, it was about making a professional contact who is interested in them as a person.”
The program has also helped Luchok make contacts across campus.
“You get to have these personal interactions with people you maybe wouldn’t know otherwise, but you have this shared interest in helping develop the student body,” she says. “It also helps me make connections that I can share with my students. I kind of collect people and keep them in this mental Rolodex. The Women’s Mentor Network has helped me expand my Rolodex.”
The complete version of this story originally appeared in USC Times.