Peer mentoring program helps to boost retention

Renee Clark credits SMART as one of the reasons she stayed at the University.

Clark, a senior, said SMART has stood as a lifeline for her since she joined the program as a mentee her freshman year.

SMART, which stands for Students of Color Mentoring, Aiding, Retaining and Teaching, is a peer-mentoring program. It gives multicultural students living at the University a chance to make connections, said Tim Shaal, senior associate director of Residence Life.

“If I ever had anything I needed or any questions, I knew they would help me,” Clark said.

The program, sponsored by the Office of Residence Life, has been around for about 15 years and mainly focuses on one-on-one meetings between the mentor and the mentees, Shaal said. The group also hosts a number of events and other programs throughout the year.

“The four main goals of SMART consist of social engagement, cultural exploration, academic support and encouragement and leadership enhancement,” he said.

Clark now works for SMART as a mentor to five first-year students, and also helps plan program events.

“For a mentee, the benefits of SMART are definitely having those connections,” Clark said. “Coming on campus where you don’t know anybody, it’s nice to have SMART as a place to make those connections.”

The program was created to better acclimate multicultural students on campus, and the numbers show its positive affect.

Students who participate in SMART are more likely to stay at the University than those who don’t, Shaal said. From fall 2011 to fall 2012, 69 percent of those in SMART stayed at the University compared to just 57 percent of all other multicultural students.

Due to its success, Shaal added there is consideration to start an upperclassmen program to offer to students living on campus after their freshman year.

Greg Gantt, a junior, said SMART remains a great resource program for him and he wants to show it can be a resource for all who join as well.

This year, Gantt is a SMART team leader, working to better connect mentors with the younger students.

“SMART is all about making bonds and relationships and I want to show that the whole SMART program is there for them,” Gantt said.

The program has the capability to host 125 to 150 first-year students, Shaal said. This year the program has 135 mentees, 25 mentors and five team leaders.

Gantt said helping first-year students also motivates himself to work harder.

“I strive for excellence,” Gantt said. “I want to act more mature and work for higher GPA’s because I know I have first year students looking up to me.”

Dominique Hicks, a junior and also a team leader with SMART, was mentored herself as a freshman.

“The opportunity to help nurture these freshmen and help them grow and blossom into great leaders is one of the benefits for me,” she said. “It’s a great program, I really enjoy it and I want to give back because I had someone who helped me.”

“You get out of it what you put in,” Hicks said. “We are all about helping each other grow and shine on campus.”