Proposal for a Pilot Peer-Mentoring Program
For Doctoral Students in Education at Widener University
©2000 Nicola C. DiFronzo
This proposal is for the development and implementation of a pilot peer-mentoring program for education doctoral students at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania. This program would be available to all doctoral students in education, which includes those in the higher education, reading and language arts, and the school administration tracks. While much research has been done in the area of peer mentoring, it has rarely been studied at the doctoral level.
Need for the program
The need for mentoring of doctoral students at Widener has been illustrated by the student body. A town meeting discussion created by Dr. Antonia D'Onofrio was sent out via e-mail to offer doctoral students a forum to discuss their needs while in the program. An overwhelming response for mentoring was expressed as well as a desire for more of a connection to the college and to fellow colleagues. Widener education doctoral students are admitted on a rolling admission basis meaning that the university admits students in the fall, spring and summer semesters. The students also do not have to take courses in any specific order. Because of these reasons students are not in cohorts meaning they do not have the same individuals in their classes from semester to semester. While this allows for flexibility, it also keeps students more isolated from one another. This feeling of solitude will be addressed and hopefully changed by the peermentoring program.
This program would be beneficial not only for the students but for the college as well. As previously stated this is a unique program and there are not many programs such as this one in the current literature. Most mentoring programs at the graduate level are conducted between students and faculty. This program would bring together the doctoral students at Widener and give them a sense camaraderie as well as more of an allegiance to the university. It may also help with student retention. This program could also be used as a marketing tool for the university. Since Widener's doctoral program in education caters to adult students it is already a unique graduate program. Having a peer-mentoring program in place for incoming doctoral students would enhance Widener's commitment to adults and their development and would serve as another important piece to this already unique program.
The financial cost for beginning this program would be quite low, about $ 1,000. Monies would be needed to finance mailings to invite new students to become prot6g6s as well as "seasoned" students (those with 15 credits or more, taken at Widener) to become mentors. A small reception would also be held once prot6g6s have been matched and finances would be required to purchase food. Originally a "potluck" type of reception was suggested, however food must be supplied from ARA food services at Widener for all events sponsored on campus. A closing reception or other event to bring these students together may also be held.
Organization of the Peer Mentoring Program
The peer-mentoring program would be organized under the umbrella of EDSA and would be run predominately by the students. As a member, I would serve as the program coordinator and would gain assistance from other members. Volunteer mentors and prot6g6s would be recruited via mail and if possible, through e-mail. Those who wish to be mentors would meet with myself and possibly other members of EDSA for a discussion/training session. Here they would learn what is expected of them and it would give them the opportunity to ask questions and be sure that they wish to be part of this program. I am hoping for a sample size of approximately thirty to forty individuals, half mentors and the other half prot6g6s. If there are more prot6g6s than mentors, some mentors could have more than one protege.
Time for those who wish to be mentors would be the most costly factor of this program. The relationship between the mentor and prot6g6 would end once the mentor has completed the program. The mentor would continue to offer support and guidance to the prot6g6 until that individual has completed their doctoral degree. The need for support may not be as great once the individual has taken more and more courses at Widener, but it is expected that the communication between the mentor and prot6g6 continue. If the two individuals wish to terminate the relationship before this time and it is a mutually based decision that would be acceptable and the program coordinator would be informed.. If one person either the mentor or prot6g6 wishes to terminate the relationship an alternate individual would be found as a replacement by the program coordinator. Periodic check-ins with all mentors and prot6g6s would be conducted also by the program coordinator to ensure that both parties are performing their appropriate duties. It is expected that the mentor and prot6g6 communicate with each other on at least a monthly basis. This program is informal in that it will be up to the individuals on how they go about communicating with each other. Some suggestions are meeting on campus before a given class at the coffee shop, phone calls, e-mail messages, or meeting off campus at various locations. The main objective is for the prot6g6 to gain support and learn about the program and the campus through their mentor. Mentors and proteges would be matched according to the education track they are studying.
Analysis of the Effectiveness of the Peer-Mentoring Program
After approximately one year qualitative as well as quantitative data will be collected to see the effectiveness of this pilot program. I will be using the data and information collected as part of my doctoral dissertation. Although nothing has been developed yet, it is assumed that a survey will be distributed as well conducting interviews with mentors and prot6g6s to discuss the benefits as well as limitations of the program. If it is seen as effective then hopefully it will become a program that is offered for all incoming education doctoral students at Widener University.
Philosophical Justification for the Peer-Mentoring Program
Widener University's doctoral programs in education cater to adult students and to the needs of the adult learner. Until approximately three decades ago, there was not much information about adult learning and adult development. Current research illustrates that "adulthood is not a state, but instead a process of learning and developing. Receiving guidance, advice and support throughout adulthood can be extremely helpful when making choices" (Otto, 1994, p. 15). The peer-mentoring program would offer this type of support and guidance for newly admitted students in the doctoral program. Psychologist Erik Erikson developed an eight stage psychosocial. development theory. In the seventh stage, generativity versus stagnation, he states that in order to avoid feelings of stunted growth, the middle aged individual may develop a strong need to share knowledge and skills. "Emphasis is placed on new priorities such as caring for others, getting involved in civic duties, and becoming more creative and productive. The adult feels a sense of enrichment when opportunities arise that allow expression of personal experience, values, ideas, and philosophy through teaching, guiding, or supervising" (Romero, 1990, p.4). The peer-mentoring program would offer the mentors as well as the prot6g6s the opportunity to feel this sense involvement and growth and to share their experiences with one another.
A study by Knox and McGovern illustrate that the six most important characteristics of a mentor are: a willingness to share knowledge, honesty, competency, a willingness to allow growth, a willingness to give positive and critical feedback, and directness (Otto, 1994). It was also stated that these characteristics are most likely to be found in middle-aged adults who have achieved some degree of professional and personal success and have the capacity for directing action in their own lives as well as the lives of others (Otto, 1994). The adult students in Widener's doctoral programs in education appear to meet these criteria and therefore would be effective and viable mentors.
Analysis of Cost versus Benefits
The benefits of the peer-mentoring program well outweigh the costs. As previously stated the program would be beneficial not only for the students who choose to participate but also for Widener University as well. The prot6g6s would benefit by having support and guidance not only as they enter the doctoral program, but throughout their course of study. The mentors would have the opportunity to share knowledge as well as offer their expertise to the prot6g6s. Both parties would benefit from positive relationships based on mutual respect and understanding which will hopefully grow into lifelong friendships. Widener University would also benefit in many ways. First, this program would be one that is unique and could be used as a great marketing tool to recruit new students. It may also help with the retention of doctoral students. So often adult students have many factors to deal with in their busy lives and when things get too hectic school tends to be the first item off their list of things to do. Having the support of another student may stop these students from temporarily leaving or completely dropping out of the program. This would ultimately help them to achieve their goal of receiving their doctoral degree and give Widener the opportunity to have even more graduates of this program. It appears that this pilot peer-mentoring program for doctoral students would be beneficial for all of those involved. It is an area where further research is needed and its development and progress could be studied over time through the participation of the students at Widener University.
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