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Two heads are better than one

The transition from attending high school to attending a large, urban university can be rough. From finding the right classrooms or books to managing time, students are often left to adjust without guidance. However, some USF students may find the transition easier with the help of the USF mentoring program, Project Thrust.

Through the program, students are paired with volunteer faculty or staff members, based on social and academic interests. From there, the mentor can help the student with whatever situations arise, personal or academic.

“Experience has shown us that having a personal contact, a friend and a role model from among the staff or faculty, can make a significant difference in a new student’s college experience,” said Mack Davis, director for the program.

Davis added that the main goal of the program is to help students adjust to the campus lifestyle and retain them at the university.

“Developing strong support systems within the university community promotes the university’s mission of providing the best education to its students while improving student rates of persistence and matriculation,” Davis said.

Lauren Thompson, a freshman participating in the program, said she hopes her mentor will become a well-rounded role model and friend.

“I want somebody to give me personal attention, help me deal with stress and help keep things in perspective,” Thompson said. “But I also want someone to help push me academically, so that I reach my full potential.”

Mario Brown, another student in the program, said he has different expectations of his mentor.

“This is such a large university and there are a lot of things going on here,” Brown said. “I really just want someone who can help me on a one-to-one basis, get all the information I need.”

Sharon Espinola, a graduate assistant, joined the staff of Project Thrust this past fall to coordinate the program. A luncheon Jan. 21 officially kicked off the program, and served as a neutral setting for the mentors and students to meet for the first time.

“Part of the reason we didn’t start in fall is because we wanted to coincide with the National Mentoring kickoff, which is in January,” Espinola said. “Plus, there was nobody in place to run the program when the fall semester began.”

Though the program got off to a late start, expectations for its success are still high.

“It may be more challenging starting in the spring because an entire semester has already passed and students have developed some routines and habits,” Davis said. “Our goal now is to help fine-tune and adjust those habits to ensure the students’ success.”

Many of the mentors participating in the program this year also participated last year and still keep in touch with their students. Tracy Wicklund-Thiese, director of recruitment for undergraduate admissions, is serving her second year as a mentor.

“I had such a great experience with my mentee last year — we went through almost everything together,” Wicklund-Thiese said. “I’ll be here for whatever my new mentee wants and needs me for.”

The program currently has about 30 pairs of mentors and students and is seeking to add more if there is still an interest. The goals for next year’s program are even higher, as advertising for it will be heavier and will occur earlier in the school year. The recruiting process for students will begin during the summer before classes start, as Espinola and Davis plan to kickoff the program in the fall.

“We’ll get our mentees for next year from the pool of new students at the various orientations,” Espinola explained.

“They’re the ones that will be looking for some help.”

As for the success of this year’s program, Espinola said her team of mentors is concentrating on quality, not quantity.

“While we would like to help as many students as possible,” Espinola said. “I think overall the success is not measured by how many we have, but rather by the impact the mentors have in the student’s lives and how much the student and mentor appreciate each other.”

Contact Rebecca Markleyat oraclefeatures@yahoo.com