After attending a conference at the University of New Mexico in 2012, a Stephen F. Austin State University faculty member became inspired by the concept of peer mentoring - so much so that she developed a program for SFA theatre students that has proven successful and continues to grow and evolve.
CC Conn's mentoring program utilizes highly qualified junior- and senior-level SFA students as peer mentors.
"The program has contributed to strengthening the already high retention and graduation rate for the School of Theatre," Conn said, "and it has resulted in significant reduction in our ineligibility list, which means students are avoiding academic pitfalls by having a mentor to help guide them."
After testing the waters with a pilot program in the spring of 2013, a full mentoring strategy was developed. Mentors must go through an application process, and they must maintain at least a 3.0 GPA. Orientation for mentors includes suicide-prevention and other emotional wellness training, as well as specific instruction on how to guide young theater students.
"Each mentor has typically four to eight 'understudies,' which is our theatre word for 'mentees,'" explained Conn, who is an associate professor at SFA. "I send monthly prompts to the mentors to discuss with their understudies. These include items such as auditions, production assignments postings, mid-term check in, study resources for midterms, seeking advising assignment, registering for classes in spring, etc. We do periodic challenges that encourage participation in theatre/campus activities, and prizes are awarded."
With the SFA program's proven success, Conn recently earned a Bright Spot award presented by the SFA Faculty Senate, the Center for Teaching and Learning and SFA vice presidents, and she has been invited to present at the same conference that inspired her years ago, as well as at the Southeastern Theatre Conference.
"It is always received with enthusiastic interest, and several schools have reached out to me for further information and to help with similar programs," she said. "My research on peer mentoring has led to interest in faculty mentoring as well as college-to-career mentoring. I recently presented at UNM on a college-to-career tool set that I am designing for our students."
Conn hopes to see theatre's pool of mentors increase in the future, and she hopes the program continues to gain momentum. She hopes to seek financial support that could provide monetary scholarships to the strongest mentors, fund events and prizes, and fund the design of similar programs across campus.
For more information about SFA's College of Fine Arts, visit www.sfasu.edu/finearts.