Mentors question terms

Students participating in the Academic Mentor program said they were misled about the terms of their positions in the program’s first year of expansion to all first-year residence halls.

The program places sophomores in freshmen residence halls to help new students with their academics. Several of the nine mentors said they thought they would receive more than their actual compensation of $500 debit dollars.

Sophomore Danielle Estey, an academic mentor in the Hall on Virginia Avenue, said she was led to believe when she applied for the program last spring that she would be given a single room in a freshmen residence hall.

“I thought `wow, that would be great,'” she said. “I really wanted a single.”

Estey said she received a letter from the University over the summer assigning her a roommate.

“I was totally confused and upset because (a single room) was what I was expecting and what I had packed for,” she said. “Even if they never planned on giving us singles, it was false advertising.”

The application to the program lists the duties of the academic mentors and their compensation. Last March, Estey said, this included the single room provision. When she asked to see the application at the beginning of the school year, it only listed the 500 debit dollars as compensation.

“(The application) was a different color than what they gave us last year,” Estey said. She said where the application originally stated “single room with a bathroom in a first-year hall,” it now reads “room in a first-year hall with a bathroom.”

“Either they did a really good job misleading us or they changed it and won’t give it to us,” Estey said.

The Academic Mentor office began last fall as an initiative of the Selection, Training and Development Department of the Community Living and Learning Center to integrate academic support into residence halls.

The program also offers leadership opportunities for sophomores who want to serve as a resource for incoming students, said Tova Olson, CLLC manager of selection, training and development.

Sophomore Beth Alexander, an academic mentor in Thurston Hall, said she also remembers the single room part of the position being advertised on fliers for the program last spring. “It was definitely a benefit of the position,” she said.

Estey and Alexander now live with freshmen roommates.

A single room was never part of the academic mentor agreement, Olson said.

“I can guarantee it didn’t say that,” she said. “People might have had an assumption that it was like the (Community Facilitator) position.”

Olson also said the confusion could have stemmed from the program’s beginning in Mitchell Hall last year, which only has single rooms.

“The nature of (the academic mentor) job is not to take on a job like a CF would take on,” Olson said. “We want them to be a link to academic resources, such as the Writing Center or the University Counseling Center.”

Some academic mentors said they feel they need the privacy of a single room to perform their duties effectively.

“If you want to talk about an academic problem, or are failing a class, and there’s someone in the room that’s your peer, who might even be in the same class, you might not feel comfortable talking,” said an academic mentor who wished to remain anonymous. “CFs don’t have roommates for a reason, they have a job they do in their rooms. At least they could put two academic mentors together in one room.”

Academic mentors provide programming to help students become academically adjusted during their first year at college, Olson said. This could include arranging group-tutoring sessions in their halls, producing academic bulletin boards and inviting teaching assistants and faculty members to interact with students.

“I don’t want to quit, because I think the program is good,” Estey said. “But with our freshman roommates, you can’t say `step into my office, or step into my single.’ It’s a big confidentiality issue.”

Sophomore Scott Pizzarello, an academic mentor in Thurston Hall, said he was overwhelmed by the amount of students he was assigned to assist.

“I was under the impression that there would be more mentors,” he said, adding that each of the three in Thurston are in charge of reaching more than 400 students on three floors.

More incentives to join the program could encourage more students to become academic mentors, Pizzarello said. “I’m not saying we need free room and board, but maybe it could be reduced or cut in half,” he said.

Estey agreed.

“Even though I enjoy my job, we really get no perks to speak of, even though we were led to believe that we would,” she said. “The debit dollars wasn’t why I did it, but $500 paid for one semester of books.”

Pizzarello said that while the response of freshmen to the program has not been abundant, he has helped several students with questions about classes and professors, and expects more questions to arise when freshmen begin scheduling for next semester.

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