November 25, 2013

Navigating a challenging curriculum at a large university may seem like an insurmountable hill to climb. However, the LSU College of Engineering’s peer mentor program assists freshmen and transfer students in building and fostering relationships with upper-level students, faculty and staff. Two College of Engineering students recently had the chance to promote the success of its peer mentor program with engineering faculty across the country via a web-based seminar, or webinar.

The webinar was hosted by current peer mentors, James Parker, civil engineering senior, and Heather Pickering, chemical engineering senior. Both Parker and Pickering have participated in LSU’s peer mentor program for four years.

“The webinar demonstrated how we have integrated peer mentoring into our STEP program and the success of it,” said Parker. “We want to show other schools that by integrating a peer mentoring program, they too can help retention in their school.”

The goal of the LSU College of Engineering’s STEP Program is to increase the retention of engineering, construction management and computer science students, thus increasing the number of graduates from Science and Engineering disciplines. The program is designed to educate students in mentoring, leadership and communication skills and provide opportunities for students to build and demonstrate these skills in a variety of engineering environments.

“STEP connects students to other students, to faculty and staff, and industry leaders,” said Summer Dann, STEP Project Director. “It builds a sense of community between the students, the College and other stakeholders.”

The webinar covered several aspects of LSU’s College of Engineering’s peer mentor program including: program goals and objectives, participant selection and training, leadership structure, the variety of activities peer mentors host, and assessments. Assessments indicate that LSU’s peer mentor program has made a significant impact in the retention of engineering students who participate in the program.

“If an upperclassmen is involved in the Peer Mentor program, they are 30 to 40 percent more likely to stay in and graduate from an engineering discipline than their peers,” Dann said. “The upperclassmen also impact freshmen; the difference in retention is between 10 and 15 percent, but the Peer Mentor program 90 percent of them will graduate from the College of Engineering.”

In fact, in 2010, STEP reported that the retention rate of LSU College of Engineering students who participated in STEP had a 74 percent retention rate compared to 68 percent for students who did not participate. The retention rate for students who participated in STEP as peer mentors was 100 percent.

Peer mentors have a significantly higher mean GPA and graduation rate than other students in the College of Engineering. Students have reported that the program aided their transition into LSU, and for some it has kept them from dropping out of engineering.

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Article by Lauren Zimmermann, communications intern. For more information, contact Mimi LaValle, College of Engineering, mlavall@lsu.edu or (225) 578-5706.

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.



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