For a first-year college student, stepping onto a new campus and beginning classes can be overwhelming. For a returning student, an unsuccessful first semester can add a lot of pressure, especially if the student is not certain how to avoid making the same mistakes.
At Pennsylvania College of Technology, an academic mentoring program is designed to help those students.
Joshua I. Bobenrieth, of Port Allegany, graduated in May with a degree in electronics and computer engineering technology, a faculty award and a plan to continue his education in aerospace engineering.
Joshua I. Bobenrieth, a recent electronics and computer engineering technology graduate from Port Allegany, meets with his academic mentor, Karen E. Wright, a graduation assistant in the Registrar’s Office.
But in his first semester, he was anything but confident.
"I was having a hard time adjusting to college life," he said. "After a few weeks, I was stressed and needed help, so I asked my instructor and was directed to the mentor program."
Penn College's academic mentors are employees who volunteer to help any student who needs it.
"Academic mentors are not tutors and not counselors," said Melissa M. Stocum, academic skills specialist-academic mentoring program. "The closest comparison would be that mentors are like academic coaches who listen and guide the students to a victorious semester."
Bobenrieth was paired with Karen E. Wright, a graduation assistant in the Registrar's Office. On meeting Bobenrieth, Wright noticed he was tense and shy.
"After meeting with him almost every week for two years, he slowly gained confidence in himself," Wright said, noting that he became comfortable talking in front of his classes, was very involved in the college's IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) student chapter, and spent free time with friends.
"I could not have been handed someone better," Bobenrieth said of Wright before graduation. "She has, without a doubt, guided me on my path toward college success. She talks to me weekly on how I'm doing, and if I'm in need of help, she points me in the right direction."
After mentoring together successfully for several semesters, Wright had a heartbreaking visit from Bobenrieth. He told her he would not be returning to Penn College in Fall 2013 for financial reasons.
"At this point, he had already withdrawn from his fall classes and canceled his room with Residence Life," Wright explained. "He said he would do his best to return for the Spring 2014 semester, but from knowing him as well as I do, I knew if he left Penn College, he would never return."
She had no idea what help was available, but her concern drove her to reach out to several people on campus, including the Financial Aid Office and Penn College Foundation. By that evening, Bobenrieth was informed that scholarships were awarded to keep him in school.
"With a lot of extra help from the dean, registrar, housing and a few others, he was rescheduled for his fall classes," Wright said. "This was Penn College at its best - helping a student and giving him a break in life."
Students come to the Academic Mentoring Program in a variety of ways. Some seek a mentor by completing an online request form, while others ask around the Academic Success Center for help. Other times, faculty members recognize the signs that a student is struggling and refer him or her to mentoring to get back on track. Still other students are required to seek the help of mentoring because of a prior academic dismissal.
Applied human services student Stacey L. French, of Montoursville, met with her mentor, Katie L. Mackey, after experiencing a rocky semester. Mackey is the college's coordinator of off-campus living and commuter services.
"Katie has helped me be successful in so many ways. She has helped me face many fears that I have had as a student," French said. "Being on academic probation is very stressful, and Katie was there that first semester to give me moral support when I was struggling with self-doubt. I went from being on academic probation to being on the dean's list both the fall semester of 2012 and the spring semester of 2013. I believe, that if I didn't have my mentor, I would have given up and not finished the first semester back."
Stocum says that, each semester, more employees have volunteered, bringing the roster of academic mentors to more than 40.
Penn College students, too, can give back through a mentoring relationship. Through the Penn Pal program, experienced students are paired with incoming students to help alleviate initial fears, answer questions and generally guide them through the often-stressful milestones of the first year.
"I am proud of all of the hard work of our mentors and our Penn Pals," Stocum said. "Our mentors are willing to take time out of each week to focus on an individual student's success, and I know that our participating students really appreciate the support."