The Mentor System
The mentor system of the College of Engineering is probably the oldest student counseling service in continuous operation in this country. Devised by Dean Cooley and put into effect under his supervision in the fall of 1911, it remains as a personalized form of his interest Page 1179in the problem of the freshman in making a proper adjustment to his new environment.
Originally, the freshman class was divided into groups of ten, with a member of the faculty appointed to act as mentor, or special adviser, to each group. At times because of increased enrollment the number of freshmen in a group has been increased to eighteen to twenty, but by 1952-53 a normal group is about ten.
At the first meeting of the mentors, Dean Cooley said: "The mentor should be the elder brother and should see that every man in his group gets the largest possible benefit out of his college life." If this result is to be achieved, there must be genuine co-operation between mentor and student, and the mentor must be carefully chosen for his ability to secure the confidence and co-operation of the student.
One phase of the mentor system is the practice of reporting frequently to the freshman his current scholastic standing. Each semester is divided approximately into thirds. Soon after the first third of the first semester is completed, all faculty members teaching freshman subjects report the standings of their students to the head mentor. These reports are collected for each freshman and issued to the mentors. The freshman then has a conference with his mentor regarding his progress and any recommended changes of schedule. Copies of the reports are also mailed to his parents. This is repeated about six weeks later. Two more such report-and-interview schedules take place in the second semester. Thus, the mentor sees each of his freshmen at least four times a year, and normally, of his own volition the freshman visits his mentor oftener.
The co-operation of the faculty has been largely responsible for the success of the mentor system. Promptness of the instructor in turning in his student ratings is essential to the success of the plan. As a rule, within a week after the reports have been made, about 95 per cent of the freshmen have had conferences with their mentors.
Contacts with parents, either by mail or personally, are an important part of the mentor's duties. Many of these contacts arise naturally, when the parent learns there is a faculty personnel officer who deals directly with the freshman. More contacts develop through the practice of sending the reports to the parents.
The principle is well established that, insofar as possible, the mentor should be free from the exercise of authority, so that he may secure the co-operation of the student. He may recommend a course of action to a freshman, but will seldom see that it is enforced. While the scholastic reports constitute a valuable service, they do not become an official part of the student's scholastic record. The freshman often consults the mentor in confidence. Since consultations are entirely by word-of-mouth and are not committed to the records, the student's confidence is protected. A mentor is appointed because he has an intelligent and sympathetic attitude toward the work and because he is willing to assume a difficult burden. His knowledge and experience do not always enable him to detect the cause of more serious difficulties, but he makes use of all campus services. He does not hesitate to refer the freshman to the University Health Service, and the freshman seldom fails to take advantage of such help.
As to scholastic adjustment, if a student's first report shows him to be doing work which is below passing grade, he may be advised to drop one subject so that he may bring up his average. This is particularly true of students who are partly or wholly self-supporting. Often a mentor discovers emotionally disturbing factors and helps the student to a Page 1180realization that this alone may be the cause of his difficulty.
The mentor's judgment of a student's capacity for doing creditable work is aided by access to all available information, such as his high-school record and the record made in Orientation period tests.
Since 1911 freshmen in the College have been required to attend a one-hour weekly assembly, conducted by the head mentor. Originally, assembly programs consisted mainly of class meetings, informational talks, speeches by the Dean and heads of engineering departments, and addresses by outside engineering speakers. Talks may be given on the subjects of the honor system and class organization, the functional aspects of engineering, invention and patents, student fears, personality development and undesirable behavior traits, scholarship and its relation to later success, and effective learning methods. The assemblies for the second semester are largely devoted to giving the freshmen as broad a view of the engineering field as possible.
The fine co-operation of those staff members who have served the College as mentors more than anything else has made the plan one of the outstanding systems of its kind.
Until about 1928 it was the custom to appoint a new head mentor each year. Professor Arthur D. Moore served continuously in that capacity from then until 1952, when Professor C. Willett Spooner was appointed to the position. Permanency of appointment made it possible for Moore to study the system as a whole and to keep more nearly abreast of the rapid growth of knowledge in the personnel field.