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NIU Today | Faculty, staff mentors needed for first-year students

Ray Earl-Jackson plans to volunteer for the Student-Faculty Links mentorship program that is organized by the Office of Orientation and First-Year Programs. The program connects first-year students to a faculty or staff member to provide general scholastic advice and to help mentees become aware of resources and programs that will help increase their success.

Ray Earl-Jackson stands on the shoulders of mentors who supported him during his college days.

So Earl-Jackson, the NIU Foundation’s executive director for the college-based advancement, volunteered last year for NIU’s Student-Faculty Links Program.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without mentors in my own life,” Earl-Jackson said. “These were relationships that began in college, and these people still support and keep in touch with me. Now I feel like I’m at the point where I can do that for someone else.”

Earl-Jackson not only plans to volunteer again for Student-Faculty Links this coming fall, but he also is recruiting members of his division. The help is much appreciated by the Office of Orientation and First Year Programs, which is working now to boost its mentor numbers.

The eight-week Student-Faculty Links program is designed to connect incoming first-year students with a faculty or staff member. In addition to providing general scholastic advice, mentors help their mentees become more aware of opportunities and resources that will help to increase student success and retention.

Virtual information sessions on the program will be held from 12:30 to 1 pm Tuesday, March 15, Wednesday, April 13 and Monday, May 9th. Interested NIU employees, including those working from home, can apply online to take part in the sessions.

“We want volunteers who are willing to devote some time to see that our students can be successful in their transition to NIU and show that there’s someone here on campus who cares about them,” said Jac Cooper, associate director of Orientation and First Year Programs .

“These students are away from their support systems at home, so the first weeks at NIU represent a pivotal time to start building community connections, find purpose in their studies and get over any fear of the unknown,” he added.

Mentors will participate in three 30-minute virtual training sessions over the summer and be paired with one or two mentees before the fall semester begins. The expectation over eight weeks is for mentors to stay in touch with their students weekly through emails, calls and virtual or in-person meetings

Cooper said the program has struggled to find enough mentors for all of the students interested in Student-Faculty Links. He hopes to boost the program numbers from 37 to at least 50 mentors.

Faculty and staff often benefit as much as the students from the experience.

“For some of us, we don’t really get an opportunity to often interact one-on-one with students,” Cooper said. “To be able to sit down and talk with a student can energize us as faculty and staff members. And for the student, it’s important for them to have someone supporting their dreams, so they know their goals can really be achieved. It all starts that first semester.”

Cooper hopes to attract faculty and staff from a wide variety of NIU departments. He pairs mentors with students who have shared academic or other interests.

Given his own college experiences, Earl-Jackson hopes to help the minority students. He and his mentee instantly connected and have stayed in contact. “He’s a really good young man,” Earl-Jackson said. “I’ll always make sure to check in on him.”

Mentoring also helps Earl-Jackson keep a pulse on student life, he said, noting a common thread between his mentoring efforts and his daily work with alumni and donors to secure scholarship and program funding. Both contribute to university retention efforts.

“If I can help in a student’s life,” Earl-Jackson said, “I think it’s my responsibility.”

For more information on the program, visit the Student-Faculty Links website or contact Jac Cooper at jcooper5@niu.edu.

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