The launch event was hosted at the Career Services office in downtown Hanover and began with an introduction of the Mentoring Program by graduate students, Max Mehlman and Marie Onakomaiya. A panel discussion followed with Thayer professor, Dr. Kofi Odame and five graduate students (Stela Celaj, Max Mehlman, Erin O’Malley, Elizabeth Sergison, and Jeremy Thompson), who answered questions from the 30 undergraduates who attended the event. The final session was the meet-a-mentor breakout session, during which undergrads could mingle and talk one-on-one with graduate students in their field of interest.
Almost a year in the making, the idea for the Mentoring Program came from a conversation in the spring of 2012 between Onakomaiya, a PhD student in the Program in Experimental and Molecular Medicine, and Jessica Friedman of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. Friedman highlighted the need to connect Dartmouth undergraduates interested in graduate school with graduate students, so they could experience what graduate school is like. Unless they do undergraduate research in a lab or an honors thesis with a professor, students do not get to experience what it is like to go to grad school until they begin. This conversation led to the initial concept of a day of shadowing grad students.
Through collaboration with Mehlman, a PhD student in the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences (PBS), Anna Prescott and Aarathi Prasad of the Graduate Women in Science and Engineering (GWISE) group, and Kathy Weaver, the assistant director of the Office of Undergraduate Advising and Research, the program evolved into more than just shadowing. A summer pilot was set up, and through announcements in the Graduate Student Council (GSC) Gazetteer, graduate students were recruited to be “low-pressure” mentors to undergraduate students in the Women in Science Program (WISP). Over 40 graduate students signed up to be mentors within a month of recruiting—an indication of the enthusiasm of graduate students to help the Dartmouth community fill this gap.
After the summer pilot, the feedback from the 18 participants was largely positive. One undergraduate, Holly Wakeman, said of the program “I found the program very helpful! I’m an undergrad considering applying to grad school, and I met with several mentors to talk about how and when to apply, their experiences, and my interests. While I’m not still in contact with most of the mentors I met with, it was a very valuable experience and really helped me to better understand what I’d like to do and how to get there!”
Through the fall and winter terms, Mehlman and Onakomaiya re-evaluated the program and worked on how to launch it campus-wide. Weaver connected them with key people in offices across campus involved in undergraduate-graduate education, including the Undergraduate Deans Office, Pre-Health Advising, Graduate Studies, and Career Services, among others. They also pitched the program to professors in different departments and schools on campus, who recognized the need and potential of the program. There was overwhelming support from all corners.
The program is designed to be self-sustaining. Undergrads are given access to a list of graduate students interested in being mentors, including their contact information and a short description of their graduate work and other expertise. The graduate students are available for questions over email and/or coffee, or to be shadowed, giving some flexibility to all concerned.
In the future, there are plans to receive quarterly mentor feedback and to set up a yearly mentor training session to provide support to the graduate mentors and help them be better mentors, as well as to re-assess the success of the program. Overall, the Mentoring Program is providing a direct way for undergraduates to learn more about graduate school, and has in the same turn provided a mentoring opportunity for Dartmouth graduate students.
The Mentoring Program is always recruiting new mentors. Graduate students interested in being mentors can e-mail either Mehlman or Onakomaiya. Undergraduate students interested in learning more about grad school can visit the Graduate-Undergraduate Mentoring Program website to connect with a mentor.
by Marie Onakomaiya