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Mridula Udayagiri, California State University at Sacramento
Mentors and mentees
One of the challenges for the California State System, the largest public university system in the United States, is the issue of retention—especially for first-generation college students. Retention and graduation initiatives abound as the system seeks to make itself more efficient in providing quality education to its students and helping them graduate in a timely manner. This is the backdrop against which Soc Connect, a peer-mentoring program in the department of sociology at California State University-Sacramento (CSUS), began providing support to first-generation sociology majors in fall 2009.
A retention initiative, Soc Connect, which is part of the Faculty Student Mentor Program, Division of Student Academic Success and Educational Equity Programs at CSUS, contributes to the multi-pronged CSU-wide graduation initiative on our campus. Although first-generation college students get recruited into the Faculty Student Mentor Program, Soc Connect was opened to all students in accordance with the recommendations of ASA’s Minority Opportunities through School Transformation (MOST) program. The ASA publication Launching Majors into Satisfying Careers: A Faculty Manual (fall 2009) proved timely as it offers a systematic guide to help sociology majors launch successful careers. Finding mentors and moving on to careers is even more urgent for first-generation sociology majors who constitute about 20 percent of our department’s 774 declared majors. Reflecting the changing demographic in the CSU system, about a third of first-generation sociology majors are Latina/o.
Soc Connect consists of mentors and mentees who are all sociology majors. Mentors are typically seniors or rising seniors who have spent at least a year on campus as a sociology major with a minimum GPA of 2.8. Transfer students, newly declared sociology majors, those on academic probation or reinstated students are recruited as mentees. The program is offered as a one-unit course for mentees who can self-register and a two unit course for mentors who require instructor permission. The class meets two hours every week, and structured activities are carried out with the use of various campus resources. Mentors help mentees create academic plans for two subsequent semesters, including course planning, time management skills, and exploring research and internship opportunities.
Soc Connect also has elements of a first-year seminar, such as introduction to technological and information literacy, health and counseling services, multicultural literacy with opportunities for community engagement on campus. These activities are usually campus-based field trips that help mentors and mentees build a relationship with each other as they learn how to use campus resources for their own academic and professional success. As many of our majors are transfer students, an introduction to these resources becomes vital for their academic success.
Soc Connect provides substantial sociology-focused content as well. Research from the ASA is presented on the state of the discipline especially research briefs that provide students a perspective on their role in the pedagogical process. The program reviews how to write for sociology and gain a perspective on how to practice sociology in what has been identified as a metacognitive process. Soc Connect builds the sociological imagination as students are led to a greater awareness of their own knowledge and their ability to understand, control, and manipulate their own cognitive processes about sociology and their location within the discipline. The mentoring program can also help first-generation sociology majors accumulate cultural capital.
Recognizing that sociology majors (like many undergraduates) are concerned about their post-baccalaureate futures as there are few jobs advertised for “sociologists” per se, the program also offers workshops that focus on jobs after graduation. One of these is a detailed workshop on graduate studies offered by the campus Office of Graduate Diversity. Over the years Soc Connect has expanded the pipeline for graduate programs as students better understand the importance and value of graduate education.
The highlight of Soc Connect is our three career development and planning workshops. They include an introduction to the resources and services offered by the campus career center and how to secure jobs and build careers in the social services and policy research areas by faculty and community experts. California, considered the eighth largest economy in the world, provides a robust policy research job sector where sociology majors are an excellent fit in terms of what they can offer: critical thinking, verbal and written communication, and research skills. Programs such as Soc Connect create a new generation of policy analysts who can provide critical insights that other social science majors, such as economists and psychologists, might not.
The nation is facing a large demographic shift where first-generation college students enter universities more than ever before. Peer mentoring programs such as Soc Connect provide the means to create a generation of sociologists who seek to make the discipline more vigorous and relevant to public policy. Sociology majors are likely to find that such programs affirm their choice to be sociology majors as they gain a metacognitive perspective about sociology and how it fits into their future plans. Sociology departments with substantial numbers of first-generation students and underrepresented minorities are likely to find such peer mentoring programs useful.
Although introduced in 2009, the program continues to undergo changes and any suggestions or thoughts to improve the prospects of first-generation sociology majors are always welcome. Please contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.