Launching the Psi Beta “CONNECT” Peer-Mentoring Service-Learning Program

Your Psi Beta chapter should consider establishing a CONNECT Peer-Mentoring program at your college. Here’s how it works. Psi Beta students (two Psi Beta students per class) serve as classroom peer-mentors to all the students in the class. The campus research office at Irvine Valley College found 43% of first year college students take the Introductory Psychology course, so that chapter’s Psychology Department assigned peer-mentors to various sections of their college’s Introductory Psychology course. This arrangement makes good sense because many first year students are at risk of dropping out or performing poorly in college, and the information and guidance the peer-mentors provide is solidly based on psychological research. CONNECT’s primary mission is to have peer-mentors, Psi Beta students who themselves have been successful academically in order to qualify for Psi Beta membership, serve as inspiring role models and to increase the academic success of students still in their early years of college. The program’s mantra is to “thrive rather than simply survive in college.” The CONNECT project also contributes to President Obama’s college “Completion Agenda” because many of America’s college students begin their academic careers by attending a community college.

CONNECT’s Peer-Mentors provide the following types of support:

  • Engagement Ambassadors – The peer-mentors occasionally stop by their assigned class and encourage their students to attend campus events (e.g., club day, transfer day, career day, homecoming) and take advantage of campus services (e.g., financial aid, counseling, tutoring). Research shows that students who engage in college persist longer and achieve higher rates of degree completion.
  • Self-Regulation & Study Skills Guidance – Mentors administer the Study Skills Inventory (SSI by Dennis H. Congos). The mentors encourage students to review their SSI profiles and identify areas, such as time management, in need of improvement. The mentors encourage students to visit the campus Student Success Center and receive guidance and resources on effective textbook reading, time management, note-taking, and self-regulation.
  • Tutoring – Mentors undergo tutor training and then schedule themselves in the Student Success Center to provide tutoring in psychology and other subjects for which they qualify to tutor. They provide priority tutoring to the students from their Introductory Psychology class.
  • Mindset Training – During the first few weeks of the semester, the peer-mentors form into teams and present 80-minute Mindset (Dweck, 2007) presentations to each of the Introductory Psychology classes having peer-mentors. The main objective of the Mindset presentation, which is taken from the Heroic Imagination Project, is to encourage students to adopt a growth mindset about learning. The highly interactive Mindset presentation includes information on neuroplasticity (i.e., the brain grows, intelligence is not fixed), and explains how all learning requires effort and setbacks. Examples of highly accomplished people (athletes, scholars, performers, inventors) who have worked hard to achieve success are presented.

The CONNECT Peer-Mentor program is a low cost, sustainable, student success intervention strategy. Psychology honors students benefit by gaining knowledge and skills specified in APA’s Guidelines 2.0. More specifically, Psi Beta students learn more about psychology’s content (e.g., self-regulation, self-theories) (Goa1 1); serving others through civic engagement and volunteer service (Goal 3); delivering effective oral presentations (Goal 4); and recognizing the link between effort and achievement, collaborating successfully in small groups, use of metacognitive strategies as they apply to self-regulation (Goal 5). Moreover, the program provides Psi Beta students and advisors a meaningful research opportunity. Preliminary evaluation research on the CONNECT Peer-Mentor program at Irvine Valley College is very encouraging. Compared to students in the control sections, students in the Introductory Psychology classes having peer-mentors had higher average pre to post-test gain scores on measures of mindset and campus connectedness. In the spring term of 2014, the four treatment sections (sections having peer-mentors) had a successful completion rate (defined as the percentage of passing grades) of 78%, while the non-peer mentored sections had a completion rate of 63% (normal for this course). Plans to expand the program in future semesters include adding learning communities (i.e., pairing the Introductory Psychology class with a developmental skills course so that the same students are in both classes in which the instructors will assign collaborative projects), and a brief success intervention designed to foster a self-transcendent purpose for learning and attending college (see Yeager et al., 2014). Several approaches will be used to help “tease out” the relative impact of the various intervention strategies on increasing student persistence and GPA. First, Psi Beta members in the chapter’s research group will conduct focus group of students randomly drawn from the CONNECT Peer-Mentor treatment classes. Next, in the spring semester of 2015, the Psychology Department faculty will deploy various combinations of the different success interventions to randomly chosen sections of Introductory Psychology.

Psi Beta chapters can begin their own versions of the CONNECT Peer-Mentor service-learning project. The first step could be to have Psi Beta students service as “engagement ambassadors” by visiting classrooms to inform the students about campus services and goings-on and to encourage students to become more involved in college life. Different components of the program can be added in subsequent semesters. Also, consult with the college research office to see if they will provide baseline data on course success rates and help track the academic progress of students served by your CONNECT program. One chapter is considering adapting the CONNECT program to support their psychology department’s statistical methods course, a very challenging course for many psychology majors.

In support of CONNECT’s future growth and effectiveness, Psi Beta has set up a resource center on the national Psi Beta website. The site provides links to articles, videos, strategies, etc. that peer-mentors can use to assist their mentees in developing successful self-regulation strategies and study skills. Chapters, members and advisors are invited to add resources to the CONNECT resource center. Click here to visit the CONNECT resource center. The resource page within the CONNECT website is password protected. Chapter advisors can obtain the password from the Psi Beta national office.

Reference

National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education (2011, June). Affordability and transfer: Critical to increasing baccalaureate degree completion. Retrieved October 27, 2011, from http://www.highereducation.org/reports/pa_at/index.sht

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