April 18, 2013

An Ecosystem for Mentorship: A New Vision for College Communities

Category: Educational Practice
interconnectedness graphic with colorful shapes representing public community people

On a recent college visit, I was pleased to find a great model for an entire ecosystem of mentorship. Colorado Christian University (CCU) students/faculty had been touting their solid community, and for all I can tell, it appears legit by design.

The campus is small, 1200-1500, and somewhat affluent (at least the tuition calls for much money). But I believe their layered, overlapping and differentiated means for everyone being known by someone, begs neither small size nor large expense.

A brief description:

1:150; 8-5; 5 days/wk: Their life direction program is a center providing a one-stop for all needs a student might have. It’s housed/staffed from 8-5 everyday. For most staff, this is their only responsibility. Each staff facilitates the same – approximately 150 – students for all four years the students are there. Kids can drop in to the center whenever they need to.Monika-2.fw

1:50?; on call: Whenever they aren’t in class, academic mentors are pretty much on call. It really appears to be much like a family atmosphere, where off hours you find everyone hanging around the campus…like they might around the house. I’m not sure what this ratio might be, but I am assuming less than 1 to 150, since the average class size is around 15. So kids can make an appointment whenever they need to. Academic mentors stay with the same student for all four years as well.Monika-4.fw

Whole community; twice/wk: They have whole community gatherings twice a week. This is required, but from what I could tell, it was a highlight for everyone.Monika-3.fw

1:20; 24/7: Dorm-like apartments are grouped by what they call stairwells. There are 20 students to one upperclassman. This is pretty much a 24/7 on-call situation. Most appeared to gather at least 3-4 times a week for formal/informal events. One of the freshman classes is taken with this group along with a stairwell of the opposite sex. So they pretty much live together, but also take a course together that first year.Monika-5.fw

1:1; 24/7: They have a couple security people who ride around the campus 24/7 at the students’ beck and call. One of the first things students get is their cell phone numbers.Monika-6.fw

2 get-aways: They go on at least two weekend retreats a year.

I love the many levels, and the many different kinds of connection, that are available.

The school’s president, upon his arrival, (I can’t remember what year he arrived), took down the doors of his office and put in big glass doors. He walks the campus often, for casual conversation, often asking what book a person is reading.

He also says that they are seeking out homeschool/unschool students because they are proving to be highly self-directed.

Perhaps even more key is the prior to attending piece:

I also believe that their (CCU’s – and probably many others) structured connections prior to attending is huge. Perhaps it could replace ACT/SAT, diploma, … even portfolio, et al, by helping kids find out if they really want to go somewhere. [So, boldly suggesting it’s more about fittingness than fitting/getting in]. It’s about helping kids/people find it out in a more timely and humane way, specifically, by connecting them to a current/live student, as mentor.

Over the last four years, we have come across kids wishing they could experiment with/visit /live-in – with no risk (perhaps audit) a university/college they are interested in – so that the uni is not such a mystery. We’ve had kids think they wanted to go one place, no doubt in their minds. We get them in, then shortly thereafter, once they actually see what is there, they change their minds. They realize it wasn’t what they imagined. What if that mystery didn’t exist, at least not to the extent it does now. What if the kids who actually apply/enroll are already embedded in the system enough to know?Monika-9.fw

[Thinking EMOOCs here, millions enroll, only thousands finish. That should tell us something. We need more options for people to check things out without having to pay first, without punishment of some withdrawal stigma. If we are clever, that will actually cost less than we are spending now – people/money/time/energy/resources – to get people into the places that are the best fit for them. If we can get past the competition mentality and think more in terms of public education – being – what’s best for all people because if all people are their best, communities flourish].

Imagine there being no entry evaluation, just the kind of structured connections like CCU already has in place.

i.e.: So you want to go to CCU/uni – here is a person(s) – students/counselors – assigned to you. There are several Facebook pages, multiple ways to have connection with a live student who will honestly answer your questions and invite you to come check it out.Monika-10.fw

No longer are the ginormous admissions staffs doing what they’ve been doing – taking in thousands of applications, thousands of which have 4.0’s, perfect ACT scores, deliberating between them, selecting their max, but then many are still not a good fit, as seen in the need for remedial courses, freshman dropout rate, et al. Perhaps the reason many are still not a good fit is mostly because the kid, having been through a system that praises 4.0’s and high test scores, doesn’t know what he/she wants, doesn’t know how to figure out what he/she wants, and has only heard that college is the place to be. Then perhaps the kids finds out how similar it is to the last 12 years.

This system of structured connections prior to could be a huge resource to universities/colleges with a mission of making the world a better place – turning over control issues, value issues, getting-in issues, and considering their spaces as spaces of experimentation. A very chaordic structure of breathtaking efficiency/resiliency/humanity. De-centralizing the university.


Surely something like this could be worked out in a city – to make sure everyone is known by someone. The beauty, it would offer more potential for attachment than today’s system. And because it’s based more on availability – being on call – than seat time, it would free more people (young and old) to spend more time developing not only richer/deeper relationships, but more time doing/being what matters.

Potential visuals of options for the rest of the day – city as uni/school. Affording the time and space (physical & mental) we all need/crave.Monika-12.fw

[Imagine – if this little/ginormous idea not only helps with college/uni entrance, but it ends up curing our obsession/dilemma with the getting-in, the proving proof, the sticking-to-it-ness, the sustainability.. the happiness.. the planet…]

Banner and secondary image credit: Courtesy of monika hardy