March 24, 2011

Transitioning from high school to college presents many new challenges for students. But LSU freshmen majoring in engineering can get a step ahead with the help of peer mentors who encourage and motivate students to be successful throughout the rigorous program.

The College of Engineering’s (CoE) peer mentor program is a subdivision of STEP (STEM – Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics - Talent Expansion Program), which is funded through a National Science Foundation grant. Founded in 2007, STEP provides freshmen with opportunities to interact with faculty, staff, upperclassmen and student organizations to foster a support system that encourages excellence both in and out of the classroom.

“It’s important for students to know that other students have survived the first year at LSU in engineering,” said Summer Dann-Johnson, project coordinator, STEP.

Before the fall semester begins, STEP hosts Encountering Engineering (E2), a weeklong summer camp that introduces incoming students to the basics of engineering. Peer mentors lead groups of four to five campers, supervise the E2 design project, and develop fun and engaging activities for the students. Mentors also offer advice about scheduling classes, deciding which professors to take and studying for engineering classes.

“I know what it’s like to be a freshman,” said Laura Levert, junior, industrial engineering and a peer mentor. “I can give them advice. They can come to me if they have any questions about anything, and that’s what is most important to me.”

“Getting to know other engineering students and living in the same dorm with them really helped me to stay in engineering,” said Emma Allain, senior, mechanical engineering, who has been involved in STEP since she arrived at LSU. “I met a lot of really good friends that were as dedicated to being in engineering as I was.”

The goal of STEP is to increase retention rates within the CoE. Over the course of the program’s existence, it has done just that.

In 2010, STEP reported that the retention rate of students who participated in STEP was 74 percent compared to 68 percent for students who did not participate. In addition, the retention rate for students who participated in STEP as peer mentors was 100 percent.

“The importance of the peer mentoring organization in the College of Engineering is vital for both mentors and participants,” said Dann-Johnson. “Upperclassmen enjoy being able to contribute to their classmates’ academic success and networking with fellow engineering students.”

“I love the satisfaction of knowing that I’m helping people,” said Levert.

“Success is not measured by personal success exclusively but should also include the success of others,” Allain added. “I get a lot out of seeing the students I’ve mentored that are still in the program and are still in engineering and doing well.”

 For more information about STEP or to apply to become a peer mentor, visit: http://step.eng.lsu.edu/PeerMentors.htm.

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About STEP’s Peer Mentoring Group

The peer mentor group emerged in 2007 following the success of STEP’s inaugural summer bridge camp, Encountering Engineering (E2). Last year, more than 50 upperclassmen served as peer mentors. Peer mentors are recruited and trained during the spring semester. Training consists of two formal sessions that cover a variety of topics in preparation for the incoming freshman class.

In addition to working in the E2 summer camp, the peer mentors participate in Engineering 1050, a two-credit hour, fall semester course designed to educate students about engineering and construction management careers. They also assist the College in educational outreach activities, such as Engineering Extravaganza, science fairs and robotics teams.

Article by Aariel Charbonnet, College of Engineering Public Relations Graduate Assistant



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