By Matthew Chin
All UCLA Engineering students are admitted after having proven themselves by earning top grades in the classroom. However, navigating university life is more than just classes and labs, homework and projects. It’s managing a busy academic schedule, while also fitting in those extracurricular activities that complete the college experience. Along with all that comes choosing the path that best fits their own interests and future career goals. Getting through the first two years can be tough for all students, and even overwhelming for some.
To ease this important transition to university life, UCLA Engineering put into place a new program this year that matches every entering freshman and new transfer student with an engineering upperclassman trained to be a mentor.
“There’s always been so much experience that upperclassmen could offer, but so inaccessible in a way, unless you got involved with a club,” said electrical engineering senior Tammy Chang, who led a pilot mentor effort in her major last year, and is now the student lead for the school-wide effort.
Student organizations offer some form of tutoring and mentoring along with opportunities to work on club projects. However new students had to actively seek out those groups. Now, thanks to the Office of Academic and Student Affairs and the SEASnet computing facility, peer mentoring has been made easily accessible to those students and the process has been streamlined through CourseWeb, the electronic home for an engineering student’s academic life.
“You always have people who are coming in who need help, and you always have people who have been here for a while who can help, and possibly who want to help,” Chang said. “And all we’re doing this year is providing a connection between those two groups.”
Instead of needing to be active with a specific organization, now all incoming students automatically know there’s a mentorship program even before they begin their fall quarter. In this year’s program, mentees were paired with mentors from their own major. Students who are undeclared were matched with mentors through student-run societies like Society of Women Engineers (SWE); the engineering honor society, Tau Beta Pi; and the Engineering Society of UCLA (ESUC). Throughout the fall quarter each group held its own events that included info-sessions with academic counselors.
“We received such an overwhelmingly positive response from mentees and mentors who were in the electrical engineering pilot program last year, that we decided to implement this school-wide,” said Richard D. Wesel, associate dean of academic and student affairs. “We have great students who want to be mentors and incoming students who are really helped by their peers. This new effort simply makes it much easier for everyone to connect.”
The new student mentorship program also complements other advising opportunities already in place at the school, including academic counseling, as well as the faculty mentorship program, where professors provide advice each quarter to assigned mentees on topics ranging from undergraduate research to graduate schools and working in industry.
For electrical engineering freshman Emily Im, the student mentorship program has helped boost her confidence. Im met with her mentor, and attended an informational “pathways” workshop on the different course pathways offered in electrical engineering. Now she says she is much more positive about the next few years.
“I knew that majoring in engineering was going to be difficult, but I didn’t have any background knowledge and I felt that I was just diving into the unknown,” Im said. “I know more of what to expect in the future and just knowing that someone is willing to answer any of my questions is comforting as well.”
The pathways workshop also helped freshman Queenie Ma.
“Several weeks ago, I went to the EE4Me event, which was extremely helpful in discerning between the three EE options,” the electrical engineering freshman said. “Now, I have a better idea of which pathway I want to pursue.”
For their first event, to help become more acquainted, several of the mentor groups held scavenger hunts around campus with their mentees. However the one held by electrical engineering mentors got rained out. But as good problem-solving engineers would do, the mentors devised an alternate program for that day. They changed the scavenger hunt to an exercise on how best to navigate the campus when it rains. Mentees had to use binary code to decipher clues that would take them around Boelter Hall, Engineering IV and Engineering V. The places they found were beneficial to new students getting to know the school, such as the undergraduate lounge where tutoring is available.
Other events have included class scheduling and resume building workshops, and several groups planned off-campus field trips. Mentors with SWE, Tau Beta Pi and ESUC also held an introductory session on different majors for undeclared students. And mentors in Materials Science and Engineering held a gingerbread house workshop, complete with a load-bearing competition. Events planned for winter quarter will focus on internships and other summer experiences.
Chang, who empathizes with many of the new students as she herself transferred into engineering from statistics, suggested that this year the student mentorship program has reached about 40 to 60 percent of its potential. But as mentees move into their second year, she is confident that they will definitely be able to continue to take advantage of the program. Chang’s goal is to help the school to create more interesting and worthwhile events that will help guide new students through UCLA.
“The way we can continue to improve this program is by making it known to students that this is something meaningful,” Chang said.