Empathy Motivates College Mentors

The student mentoring going on throughout the United States in grade schools and high schools doesn't stop there.

Colleges and universities are also discovering that when a student is having trouble, a student tutor can help - even when that tutor is also at risk academically. The practice is especially prevalent at colleges with a high attrition rate among entering students. Extra support is often needed. Increasingly, student mentors help provide this.

"The concept is the same as in school," says Rudolf Wilson, a professor at the school of education at Southern Illinois University (SIU) in Edwardsville. "Many colleges are saying, 'We need to do something about the attrition rate.' So they're taking students in trouble and giving them student tutors who also may be having trouble. It provides cognitive and emotional support."

The system seems to be working well. "Tutor and student develop a language, a code of ethics," an emotional bonding, Professor Wilson says. He describes the attitude of many student mentors this way: "I'm going to help you get through this, because this course tore me up. I didn't understand the professor's language. I got a D in this course, but if you work with me I'll show you how to get a C."

At SIU, for instance, Wilson oversees a program called Mentoring for Academic Success. "A junior, say, will work with a freshman in danger of flunking out. The tutors are not academically well off themselves."

On the tutor's part, Wilson reports "an empathy and familiarity with the problems involved that often lifts the student being tutored out of trouble. With this kind of academic help they may not become academic stars, yet they can often make it."

At SIU, he says, certain grade-point averages are required for fraternities and sororities to stay on campus and student mentors are helping them achieve this. Since some of the student mentors are also in trouble, he says, "they understand the problems, and both sides learn to study together."

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