By: 
Marcia Layton Turner
Honoree: 
Northern Arizona University

Located about two hours north of Phoenix, Northern Arizona University is far enough away to allow local students a sense of independence.

But it’s still close enough for those from the Phoenix-area to go home on weekends and holidays, says Evin Deschamps, interim director of student success initiatives.

Local students are also more likely than the school’s out-of-state students—who now account for 40 percent of enrollment—to arrive with friends and support networks established in high school.

To help connect out-of-state freshmen to the university and to make it more likely that they will return for a second year, officials created the Peer Jacks Mentoring program, named for the university’s Lumberjack mascot.

National Trends Link

  • Connections to fellow students, faculty and activities on campus impact a student’s likelihood of graduating, as well as the feeling their college education was worth it, according to The Gallup-Purdue Index 2015 Report.
  • The same study found that the odds of strongly agreeing that “my education was worth the cost” is 1.9 times higher—almost double—when the student had a mentor to encourage them.

The program, created in 2010, is designed to assist first-year, out-of-state students in transitioning to university life and making connections with other students.

Each year, approximately 700 students now receive one-on-one mentoring from upperclassmen, 86 percent of whom participated in the program the prior year.

In addition to pointing freshmen to the many available academic resources on campus, mentors schedule social events and trips designed to forge personal relationships that impact degree persistence.

“The program also focuses on the professional and personal development of the mentors,” says Deschamps. It’s a three-tiered model: Mentors must be certified at Level 1 to participate, with two more levels to work toward as their experience grows.

The university regularly assesses the impact of the program on retention and GPA. For the 2013-14 school year, retention from the first to second year rose 5 percent and participants had an average GPA that was .09 points higher.