“A college can carve out space and time for students and faculty members to interact, especially when research shows that it matters most: early in students’ careers and outside of the classroom…. [President] Weinberg is making a big push to put mentorship at the heart of the Denison experience. These important connections can’t be mandated, he says — relationships between students and professors, coaches, or staff members work best when they form organically. But it can be encouraged.”
President Weinberg’s philosophy on mentorship has been informed by How College Works, a book by Dan Chambliss and Christopher Takacs. They note, “The most valuable relationships students have with teachers are mentorships. These entail a significant personal and professional connection, lasting more than just one course or semester. They cannot simply be assigned, but neither do they happen just by accident.”
As Weinberg has stated, “Mentorship happens when faculty, coaches and staff take the time to care about students, to connect with them. Mentors see themselves as catalysts for students, encouraging them to ask good questions, develop goals, and learn to achieve. In short, mentorship produces intellectual and ethical growth. It is central to the learning process.”
Gallup research backs this up, indicating that mentorships are a surprisingly effective link to professional success. College graduates are almost twice as likely to be engaged in their careers if they had a “professor who cared about me as a person,” and more than twice as likely if they had a “mentor who encouraged me to pursue my goals and dreams.” Gallup found that just 22 percent of alumni agreed they had experienced that sort of relationship. At Denison, 92 percent of students report forming a close relationship with a faculty or staff member. Faculty, coaches and other mentors challenge and nurture students, and help them develop confidence, ability, and persistence.
In addition to its robust mentorship culture, Denison is building new avenues to mentorship through initiatives across campus, including a distinctive program called Advising Circles, which are opportunities for first-year students to gather weekly in small groups with a professor and a peer mentor. Advising Circles increase students’ early engagement, which leads to success in college — and after. As the Chronicle article states:
“The advising circles are an example of Denison’s effort to use structural and cultural forces to increase the odds that students find mentors. Mentorship is also being woven into Denison’s residence-life and career-development offices and its athletics program.”
For President Weinberg, it’s all about building upon what he considers one of Denison’s greatests assets — the strength of the relationships created here.