Perfecting Peer Mentoring

A new Arthur Vining Davis grant will expand program opportunities.

Peer mentoring has been part of Grinnell classrooms for decades. Now, a $250,000 grant from Arthur Vining Davis Foundations will help the College deepen and expand its programs over the next four years. The funds, says grant writer Susan Ferrari, will go toward evaluating and growing existing programs, refining mentor selection and training, providing faculty workshops, and disseminating information to other colleges and universities. 

The grant adds to mentoring programs that, over time, have expanded throughout the Grinnell curriculum. Many departments employ peer mentors for a variety of courses. The libraries and writing lab both have mentoring programs, and the Alternative Language Study Option (ALSO) not only employs peer tutors, but also helped add Japanese and Arabic to the curriculum, Ferrari notes.

“When the students report on their learning gains from a research experience, students who work with peer mentors report higher levels of gains in areas such as tolerance for obstacles, readiness for more research, and self-confidence than other students do,” said David Lopatto, Samuel R. and Marie-Louise Rosenthal Professor of Natural Science and Mathematics, professor of psychology, and interim vice-president for academic affairs and dean of the College. “Students who were the peer mentors scored even higher, thus supporting the adage that teaching is the best way to learn. Peer mentors report greater gains in leadership skills and sense of accomplishment in their peer mentor role than when they first became undergraduate researchers.”  The grant helped the Writing Lab place 18 mentors this year, up from the previous high of 12.

Heather Lobban-Viravong, associate professor of English and associate dean, is the grant’s administrator. Grinnell has received seven awards and $650,000 in funds from the foundation, beginning with a grant in 1974 for a minicomputer system.

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