Non-academic mentors at universities help create inclusivity. PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE
Non-academic mentors at universities help create inclusivity. PICTURE: DAVID RITCHIE

Non-academic mentors help create inclusivity at universities for new students

By Zodidi Dano Time of article published Sep 8, 2021

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Non-academic mentors support newcomer students socially, psychologically and emotionally to be successful in their studies. They also make universities more inclusive, a Stellenbosch University (SU) research found.

Dr Jerome Joorst from the Department of Education Policy Studies is of the view that non-academic mentors help newcomers students adapt easily to campus life.

Joorst’s research focused specifically on SU’s SciMathUS programme – a year-long bridging programme in science and mathematics that offers previously disadvantaged students who have already passed matric, a second opportunity to improve their performance in these subjects in order to gain university admission.

These students receive a year of free university accommodation, as well as non-academic mentorship.

Joorst said most students arrive at universities “unprepared” for various reasons and struggle to master their courses. In addition, the transition from school and home to university is difficult for many.

“Academic and non-academic mentors (especially those with similar experiences as the mentees) can make an important contribution here. The former works hard to prepare the students scholastically, while the latter further supports them in social, psychological and emotional areas. In this way, they help build a bridge between the mentees' capital (qualities) and habitus (way of doing, thinking and being) on ​​the one hand and the expectations at university on the other,” he said.

According to Joorst, the forms of capital that universities consider valuable are often not the same as those with which students arrive at the institutions.

“Students whose capital and habitus are in agreement with that of the university will usually do better and adapt more easily to campus life. They feel like the proverbial ‘fish in the water’, while students whose capital and habitus do not exactly match those of the university feel less at home.

“Non-academic mentors make the best of the diverse forms of capital that students bring with them in order to give them a richer experience. In this way, they also help to create a more inclusive student community,” he added.

Joost said non-academic mentors work with the missing forms of capital of their mentees to not only mediate their access to the university but also to help them understand that their forms of capital are important and valued.

He said his research has shown that non-academic or ‘informal’ mentors not only facilitate the engagement of students from marginalised environments at SU, but also help the institution to broaden its knowledge about alternative ways of mentoring.

Joorst said he believes that the mentors’ mentoring practices and their success are largely based on their own experiences as mentees in the programme, and the survival strategies that they themselves have learned over time.

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