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Ohio State Faculty, students uneasy about mentoring program

Ohio State is one of the nation’s largest public universities. One program attempts to make students feel more like they attend a smaller school, but not everyone is sure how students will react to the idea.
The Office of Student Life will be conducting a pilot project where some first-year students will be given the opportunity to live on campus for a second year and receive a $2,000 stipend in return.
The pilot is part of a larger program that would be available to every second-year when OSU requires all second-year students to live on campus, said Molly Ranz Calhoun, associate vice president for Student Life.
Students would use the stipend for study abroad, unpaid internships and research assistant positions.
Calhoun said each second-year student would get paired with a faculty mentor to help the student decide how to use the money and spend time within the students’ residence hall.
Participating faculty would “come in the evenings, and they would hang out (with the students) and they’d go to dinner with them and help them be engaged,” Calhoun said.
Each participating faculty member would have about a 1-20 ratio with the students, and Calhoun said the program would require the participation of 10 percent of the faculty.
The stipend alone is expected to cost the university $4 million in cash reserves, but the Office of Student Life has not yet determined how the faculty will be compensated for their time.
“We cannot just force this on faculty,” said Jeffory Hattey, assistant dean of First Year Experience and faculty development for the College of Food, Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. “This has to come from the faculty’s desire to see students grow.”
But not everyone is sure on the details of the project.
Tim Valentine, Arts and Sciences Scholars Program manager, said students’ initial fear stems from “thinking that there is a chance that you walk out in your bathrobe and there is your physics professor.”
Some students, such as Jack Jones, a first-year in engineering, said they think it would be awkward to have their professor or a faculty member coming into their residence halls.
“Me and my friends might say or do things they (faculty) wouldn’t want to see or hear,” he said.
Valentine said he didn’t think all faculty would be interested in the program.
“I don’t know if the top researching chemistry professor being involved in residence life is really where we should go,” Valentine said. “When you have a 600 member chemistry lab and that teacher doesn’t know their 600 students at all, going into any building that person is going to be like, ‘You’re in my class? Great.'”
While faculty mentors are often an integral part of many small, liberal arts colleges, Valentine said OSU students do not want that.
“In terms of engaging faculty with residence life, there is definitely value there, but I do not think that it is necessarily on a mentor level like with a smaller school,” Valentine said.
It would be a “cultural shift” for students and faculty at OSU, Valentine said, that would require additional program space to make students feel comfortable.
“Park-Stradley Hall has a new sky lounge, and if you were interacting at an evening event with a faculty member in that space, you probably would not feel awkward,” he said.
Hattey said he is interested in expanding programming for second-year students.
“The earlier we can connect students with faculty, the more likely those students are going to succeed,” Hattey said. He added that the mentorship program aims to connect the right faculty with the right students.
Hattey said he believes faculty involvement is crucial to graduation retention rates as well as a student’s career building.
“Our faculty have the experience, because of their professional background, to provide that expertise,” he said. They can “connect students with experts in the field.”
The mentor program would also be about connecting students’ interests with those of the faculty, Hattey said. It would provide students an opportunity to become engaged in the work they are passionate about and connect with faculty with similar interests.
“When students are passionate about something it doesn’t become work. It is something that they enjoy,” Hattey said. “It becomes part of who they are and they are more likely to develop long-term success and establish some very positive and constructive career building habits.”
Hattey and Valentine said departmental recognition would be key in getting faculty involved.
“The primary recognition of the faculty is that if they invest their time in this, their department will recognize that they’re doing something valuable, and it supports the goal and the mission of the department,” Hattey said.

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