Arizona Assurance Seeks More Faculty Mentors
When Adrian Shelton, wife of University of Arizona president Robert N. Shelton, started as a freshman at Stanford University, she didn't know what to make of the intimidating and unfamiliar college world. Though she'd done well in high school and had received a scholarship that would allow her to continue her education, no one in her family had ever graduated from college, and Shelton struggled to find her confidence in a foreign university setting, frequently wondering: "Am I good enough? Do I belong?"
Although Shelton, with the support of her family, was eventually able to gain her footing and graduate with honors and a degree in history, she's never forgotten what a struggle it was to adapt to college life.
That's why she is one of the strongest advocates of the Arizona Assurance faculty mentorship program, which pairs faculty members with recipients of the need-based Arizona Assurance aid package to help the students transition to the University.
Arizona Assurance, initiated by Robert Shelton and now in its first year, covers college costs â€“ including tuition, books and room and board â€“ for in-state students from families making $42,400 or less per year.
The mentorship component of Arizona Assurance officially got under way last month and currently has a little more than 100 faculty mentors, serving approximately one-third of this year's inaugural class of 600 Arizona Assurance scholars.
"I think that this particular kind of outreach to students, this kind
of mentorship, is a kind of teaching and guidance and (way of) bringing
someone along in the next generation that's just incredibly
invaluable," Shelton said.
More faculty members are being encouraged to join the effort so that a mentor is available for any Arizona Assurance student who wants one.
"We would love more mentors if we could get them," said Lori Goldman, the UA's director of enrollment services, who developed a mentor training program for interested faculty members.
Students without existing faculty connections â€“ those not living in residence halls or who are involved in campus cultural centers, for example â€“ were the first to be assigned mentors through Arizona Assurance, Goldman said.
Each mentor is asked to meet with their students at least two or three times a semester. They receive funds to buy coffee or lunches, Goldman said.
Mentors are also asked to provide their phone numbers so students can call them with concerns ranging from financial aid issues to questions about University deadlines and course loads.
"Mentors don't have to know all the answers, they just have to be available," Goldman said.
That level of basic support can have a significant impact on a student's confidence and go a long way in improving retention rates, she said.
Shelton says it's now clear to her what a difference it would have made if she had had a mentor as an incoming freshman.
When "I arrived on campus, there were people all around me who were talking about AP (advanced placement) credits," she recalled. "I didn't have any idea what they were talking about. That was my first clue that maybe I was surrounded by a lot of people who had a great deal more, in terms of academic and other resources, than I had."
Shelton failed a class her first quarter, which she said was a shock to her system. Yet, while she harbored anxieties that perhaps she didn't have the "right stuff" to succeed in college, she was afraid of looking weak if she asked for help.
Shelton noted that many Arizona Assurance scholars are likely to have similar fears, as they may be the first in their family to attend college and may not have grown up hearing about what to expect at a University. She said she encourages faculty to reach out to those students.
Goldman noted that students from lower-income families often face unique challenges. For example, they may be helping to support their families and are juggling work and school.
Suzanne Dovi, a political science professor, said she decided to become a faculty mentor with Arizona Assurance after watching many students work multiple jobs to make ends meet in a shaky economy.
"It's really hard to watch your students struggling financially," she said. "You can feel the family and financial pressures creeping into the classroom."
Shelton, who earned an undergraduate degree in history from Stanford in 1970 and went on to earn a master's degree in industrial relations from Iowa State University in 1986, made extra money waiting tables and cleaning houses as a college student. (You can hear her talk more about her college experience in this video.)
She and Robert Shelton met while classmates at Stanford. Robert Shelton was the first in his family to go to college and has now made it a priority to help first-generation college students at the UA succeed through initiatives like Arizona Assurance.
Although the Sheltons started out with little university experience, they are now dedicated to helping others meet their higher education goals. Their three children â€“ all of whom attended Stanford, their parents' alma mater â€“ are also active in the academic world. Christian Shelton is an assistant professor of computer science at the University of California, Riverside, Cameron Shelton is an assistant professor of economics at Claremont McKenna College and Stephanie Shelton is attending medical school and working toward a master of public health degree at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
To become an Arizona Assurance faculty mentor or get more information, e-mail Goldman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For details about Arizona Assurance, visit https://financialaid.arizona.edu/assurance.