Lehigh recently announced the launch of a new program aimed to enhance the student experience for incoming students for the 2018-19 academic year. The Mentor Collective at Lehigh will support students in transition to a more academically rigorous, residential university experience by pairing them with trained upper-class students who can help guide them on their path, provide support, link them to resources and offer advice on shared experiences. Additionally, students can use discussion guides and goal-setting activities, available through the program’s online platform, to foster meaningful conversations with their counterparts.
The program is part of the university’s broader goal to expand access to the university for groups that have been historically underrepresented. These efforts have been led by Donald Outing, Lehigh’s inaugural Vice President for Equity and Community, since he came to Lehigh early in 2017. Within this newly created Office of Diversity, Inclusion and Equity, Lehigh has established a new position of Director for Student Access and Success to champion institutional efforts to expand access to the university for first-generation and lower-income students, and to ensure that a support system is in place, which enables these students to have an enriching and successful Lehigh experience.
As Outing noted in Lehigh’s 2017 Annual Report: “Equity is about ensuring that each of us gets what we need to succeed. This includes access to opportunity, networks, resources and other support structures based on our needs and aspirations.”
In Fall 2017, George White, a longtime professor of educational leadership at Lehigh, was named Lehigh’s first Managing Director for Student Access and Success. He is responsible for developing and implementing a comprehensive set of university-wide strategies that address recruitment and admission, financial aid, student life, academic coaching and advisement and even postgraduate support.
“This program will allow us to take a holistic approach to student success by harnessing both the power of technology and the power of human connection,” said White, who proudly notes his own background as a first-generation student.
Outing and White are building on a number of initiatives that began in 2015 to make a Lehigh education accessible to a broader spectrum of students. These include a university commitment to meet 100 percent of every student’s demonstrated financial need; participation in the American Talent Initiative (ATI), an alliance between the nation’s top-performing colleges and universities that aims to increase the number of high-achieving, low-income students who graduate from top-tier institutions; and a partnership with the Posse Foundation, which seeks to expand educational opportunities for talented inner-city high school students in the Bay Area of California.
“But it’s not enough – not if we want to truly expand access, draw from a broader geographic base and seek out the most promising and talented students, irrespective of their family’s financial standing or the quality of their high school,” said Lehigh President John Simon in a recent opinion piece. “It would serve no useful purpose to attract a great student, provide financial aid for the tuition, but make no provision for the reality of living in an environment that also requires financial resources, or that excludes these students from high-impact educational experiences such as internships or study abroad programs.”
“This is why we are making such a strong collective and focused effort to not only open the doors of opportunity for talented students but also to provide a strong network that will support their success from the moment they decide to come to Lehigh, until they become productive alumni,” White stated.
The launch of the Mentor Collective at Lehigh will also support Lehigh’s Path to Prominence. Under the leadership of its board of trustees, Lehigh has embarked on an ambitious plan that will allow it to grow and evolve into an even more impactful and innovative university. This expansion includes an increase in our undergraduate and graduate student populations, the expansion of our faculty by 100, construction and renovation of key facilities and the exploration of a new college—Lehigh’s fifth—dedicated to health.
Research trends consistently underscore the effectiveness of personalized, student-centered programs to attract and retain students, improve academic performance, foster positive and supportive relationships and contribute to post-graduate success.
Employed at over 50 institutions across the country, the Mentor Collective program works by matching students with a mentor based on common interests, backgrounds and academics. Through regular monthly meetings, issues of concern can be discussed, or students can move on to mastery of essential professional skills that include time management and networking techniques, public speaking and developing a growth mindset.