Staff mentoring at DIT: A review of four programmes
Below is information regarding four programmes which has been
obtained from meetings with individuals involved with the identified
programmes. The following is a discussion of four courses that are
currently implementing staff-mentoring programmes.
Degree in electrical and control systems engineering (FT009)
(intake of first years students = 38 )
At the start of the 2003–4 academic year, Dr Cecilia Chan
joined the school of Control Systems and Electrical Engineering.
Her newly created role is intended to be divided between mentoring
(4 hours/week) and lecturing (12 hours/week) and has incorporated
- provides individual tutorials when necessary to address academic
- monitors attendance as well as marks – she will contact
students who have been excessively absent and/or have low marks,
in order to assess the difficulties;
- gathers information from students identifying their engineering
and computer knowledge as well as their interests and personal information
(i.e. email address, residence, mobile number, etc).
- establishes an individual relationship with each student by developing
a sense of trust and friendship. As part of this she meets students
individually, even if only for a couple of minutes at the end of
class. If Dr Chan is unable to provide assistance, she will refer
the student to an individual who can.
It seems that this approach has been effective since only three
students have formally withdrawn from FT009, and the average reported
class attendance is well over 50%. This is a dramatic improvement
over the prior year where almost 70% of the first-year students
did not proceed into the second year of the course.
Dr Chan explains that she has been conscious to address not only
the academic elements but also the ‘human’ components.
As she has noted, learning should be fun and this can be achieved
- encouraging students to organise and/or participate in social
event since this helps them to ‘feel’ a part of something
and this develops group cohesion;
- nominating class representatives in each class and allocating
responsibilities to them;
- calling on students for answers and creating an environment where
students can learn by association (i.e. stories, analogies, and
- creating motivation by creating assignments that include targets
and rewards, as well as by exhibiting enthusiasm with students;
- demonstrating tolerance to aid students in moving from a rigid
course ethic to a more flexible medium for learning.
Dr Chan maintains that her student-retention programme does not
ensure that the 35 students currently registered for exams will
progress to second year, but her programme, in her opinion, is at
least a pre-emptive and dynamic move to retain student numbers.
It is also her belief that this is not a job for one person, and
it is of utmost importance that the programme ethos should be adopted
at school level by all lecturing staff.
Certificate/diploma in electrical services engineering (DT244)
(intake of first years students = 48)
This four-year-old certificate/diploma programme has been quite
innovative in course design and implementation. The primary focus
has been holistic in that the ‘whole’ needs of the students
are being addressed. This has been achieved by several methods but
two specific areas relate to the concept of mentoring.
1. Three staff members have been assigned the role of advising
the first-year students, and one further staff member is the first
year coordinator. These staff have been selected because they have
at least weekly class and/or lab contact with the first-year students.
There are also advisers assigned to the second- and third-year student
2. In 2000, this course implemented a new two-year module, academic
development and key skills, designed and is managed by a psychologist.
This module responds to the need of students as identified from
self-reports, survey results and psychological research. Programmes
such as this have been established in the UK and US, and research
supports the validity of these projects (Gibbs,
Graham et. al. , 2000). In addition, a group-advising
programme between the first and second year students exists within
this module. Both groups of students share a class at least twice
a month during the academic year.
Even though the school of Control Systems and Electrical Engineering
has been able to establish successfully a student-centred ethos,
no formal staff-mentoring programme had been developed. Recently,
retention problems have arisen. As part of the solution, a new post
of student retention officer (SRO) was created in December 2003.
Two hours per week have been allocated to this post and the current
responsibilities are as follows:
- initiates contact with students who have been identified as having
difficulties (i.e. reports from lecturers or poor marks and/or attendance)
and meets with them to review situation and options; will meet with
staff and students at their request (these responsibilities are
shared with the year coordinator);
- mentors students with identified difficulties such as dyslexia,
and liaises with the disabilities officer/staff to provide assistance
(this contact continues throughout the student’s time in this
- in case of illness leading to absence, DT244 students submit medical
certificates to the SRO who notifies and/or liaises with the appropriate
staff about the certified absence;
- initiates contact with staff about outstanding attendance and/or
marks or specific difficulties with a student;
- attends the course committee meeting each term;
- provides updates to the department head and year coordinator;
- facilitates the selection of student representatives for each
year of DT244 and allocates responsibilities to them;
- identifies and prepares students for roles such as demonstrators
on information days;
- notifies students of exam registration;
- makes referrals to the appropriate DIT student services, and maintains
contact with these services when appropriate;
- In 2004–5, the SRO will be involved with induction and is
assisting with the development of a new students intake form. In
addition, the SRO and the year coordinator will meet with each student
during the first term to review progress, and so on.
It is too early to determine the full impact this role has had
with the current first year students but initial feedback from staff
and students has been quite positive. Currently there are 27 students
registered for exams. Two students have deferred for medical reasons,
four have left the course to follow electrician apprenticeships,
one student recently left to begin a motor-mechanic apprenticeship,
and four have left to pursue other academic courses such as nursing
and graphic design. It is unknown why the remaining 10 students
departed since they have not responded to correspondence or phone
calls about this matter. Obviously this is a situation that will
warrant further evaluation over the next couple of years to determine
the effectiveness of this role in regards to the transition issues
for first-year students and retention, as well as to develop this
position to its full potential.
Diploma in applied science (DT 273/1)
(intake of first years students = 86)
This science course rotates the role of staff coordinator for first-year
students between the schools of chemistry, biology and physics every
couple of years. Recently staff from chemistry have assumed this
role and its associated tasks, although this job with be passed
on to biology or physics in the coming academic year until the next
rotation. The staff coordinator’s tasks have been divided
into three areas – induction, student/staff contact and record