Whitman to continue “Family” mentorship program
After a pilot semester, Whitman College plans to continue an informal mentorship program it began this fall. The program, known informally as the Whitman Family or "Sibs," matches freshmen with sophomores who previously lived in the same rooms.
At the beginning of the semester, residential college advisers were given a list of the sophomores who previously lived in their current advisees’ rooms. They held study breaks to introduce the freshmen to the sophomores and facilitate the meeting process. Each mentor-mentee pairing was given vouchers to local ice cream parlors to incentivize the mentorship.
The concept for the program came from students who had returned from studying abroad at Oxford and shared their experience in the British university’s family program with Wilson's former Director of Student Life Michael Olin, who is now the associate dean of undergraduate students. The program was further developed by residential college adviser liaisons and community builders Brian Reiser ’13, Alyssa Atain ’13 and Elizabeth Martin ’14 in cooperation with the Whitman College Council.
“The whole idea was for this to evolve more organically and not as a mentoring program being implemented from the top-down,” Olin said. “I think it was a conscious effort on the students’ part to allow it to evolve on its own and not even call it anything [officially].”
As an early indicator of the program’s efficacy, Olin has been checking in with the ice cream establishments for counts of how many of the coupons have been redeemed. Only about 10 percent of the vouchers have been used in the last semester.
Whitman also dedicated a portion of its RCA evaluation survey to measuring the success of the program in the last semester, but the survey results have yet to be evaluated. The survey asked freshmen to rate their sense of community within the college.
Daniela Cosio ’16 was paired with a sophomore and another freshman in her hallway. She said that while she communicates frequently with her sophomore mentor, they were not able to use the voucher, suggesting that more mentorship groups may be meeting than conveyed by the use of the vouchers.
Despite frequent interactions with her mentor, Cosio said that her familiarity with other Whitman freshmen has led her to believe that she is only among a minority of freshmen who are benefitting from the program.
Still, Olin said that Whitman will be waiting on the survey results for a more conclusive indication of whether the family program achieved its goals.
“We may not be able to say this is absolutely due to the families, but ... if all of the ’zee groups who were paired with sophomores are rating their sense of community as greater, then that must be a clue that this is something to continue,” Olin said.
While Whitman was the only college to implement a college-wide program, other residential colleges have tested the same system in one ’zee group in each college. The Whitman College Council will also further assess the program later in the spring when it collects feedback on the council’s various projects.
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