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Grant Funds Faculty Research, Mentoring Program to Support At-Risk Students

An assistant professor of Social Work and a Sociology instructor have established a mentoring program for Ferris State University students who are at-risk, academically. Their efforts are providing research opportunities for Social Work undergraduate students, who will also attend presentations of their findings at professional development conferences.

Rita Walters, in Ferris’ Social Work program, and Angela Guy-Lee received a Focus on Student Success Grant for this effort from the Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning. Other support for the program was provided by the Office of Multicultural Student Services, the Social Sciences Department in the College of Arts, Sciences and Education, and the university’s Diversity and Inclusion Office.

The instructors began this process in Spring 2015, as they coordinated a focus group to better understand the experiences of some African-American students. They learned that a number of those taking part were earning failing grades, and Walters said that some of those students had not pursued academic assistance available to them on campus. Through individual sessions with their mentees, and the research from group sessions, they hope to determine why those choices were made.

“Are they going to the writing lab, are they having trouble in a Sociology class, but going to another, more familiar faculty member to seek assistance with their studies,” Walters said.

Fall 2015 is the first semester for the yearlong Black Faculty-Student Mentoring program, and Walters and Guy-Lee have divided the 21 students into two groups. Their mentees have been offered weekly group meetings and one-on-one counseling sessions each month.

“Several of the students are on academic probation,” Walters said. “We hope and expect that this will help them with their studies.”

The research being done with the mentoring group will not involve assessment of the participants’ final grades, but Walters said, as instructors, they were encouraged by student reactions following their initial group meetings.

“They recognize that the faculty is invested in their efforts, that it is more for the students than just coming to class, doing their work, and leaving,” Walters said.

Student researchers working with Guy-Lee and Walters are only involved in the group mentoring sessions, but their reports indicated the intimacy of those meetings was a new, and worthwhile experience for the mentees.

The Diversity and Inclusion Office has also approved funding for a cultural excursion as a year-end event for the participants in the mentoring program.

A portion of the $19,519 awarded to Guy-Lee and Walters will fund their student researchers’ participation in professional conference presentations, based on data collected during the large group sessions. Guy-Lee said that will include The Equity Within the Classroom conference in Troy, Mich. in March 2016, followed that month by the National Association of Black Social Workers 48th Annual Conference in New Orleans, La. The instructors believe their research assistants will get valuable insight on professional development by attending those events.

“It’s a great learning opportunity for them,” Walters said.

The Faculty Center for Teaching and Learning has distributed $35,000 to Focus on Student Success Grant Program recipients for the 2015-16 academic year.

PHOTO CAPTION: Angela Guy-Lee, (left) a Sociology instructor, and Rita Walters, an assistant professor of Social Work in Ferris State University’s College of Arts, Sciences and Education, are overseeing a grant-funded Black Faculty-Student Mentoring program this academic year.