- Associated Press - Friday, January 6, 2017

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) - What started in September as a mentoring relationship, in which Ashley Toyne gave Arlene Quintana advice on what kinds of classes to take to help her job prospects in the nursing field, has evolved into a friendship.

“I’ve given her some bits of life advice of things I would have done a little bit differently in college,” said Toyne, a nurse manager at Stormont Vail Regional Health Center. “She’s had some things to overcome to get to where she’s at right now in school. She has big goals. Keep maintaining her focus, is the biggest thing she can do, I think.”

“I’ve had someone who can relate to what I’m going through,” Quintana said of Toyne. “I know if I needed to talk to her, not just about the school stuff, if I wanted to talk to her about something else, she would be there for me. She doesn’t just care about my school stuff but in my life in general.”

Toyne and Quintana were matched soon after the start of the 2016-17 school year as part of Washburn University’s Success Institute pilot mentoring program for first-generation college students, the Topeka Capital-Journal (https://bit.ly/2iTE08G ) reported. Toyne, a 2006 Washburn graduate, said then that she thought she might learn something from Quintana. She said she’s learned that she and Quintana have had similar college freshman experiences.

Toyne admits, jokingly, that Quintana seems somewhat more “driven and focused” than she may have been going to Washburn more than 10 years ago.

“I think I’ve always been like that,” Quintana said, adding that she was ready to go to college long before she graduated from Topeka West High School in May. “I had to grow up faster than a lot of other people.”

“But I do think we have quite a few similarities from when I was her age,” Toyne said. “I knew what I wanted to do, too. So I think we definitely have that in common.”

Quintana and Toyne meet about once a month, usually over lunch, and talk about classes and other aspects of their lives. Quintana said she remains interested in pediatric nursing but knows already she may be interested in becoming a nurse practitioner, something she and Toyne have discussed at length.

“Once she gets accepted to nursing school, it will be really fun to hear how classes are going compared to a decade ago,” Toyne said.

The match between Quintana and Toyne is one of 175 current matches made since September, according to Alan Bearman, dean of university libraries and the Center for Student Success and Retention. He said the success institute’s mentoring program that matches first-generation Washburn students with members of the Topeka business community is on pace to reach 400 matches by late July or early August.

“We’re cautiously optimistic we’ll make that number,” Bearman said. “That way, every first-generation student who wants a mentor can have a mentor. It’s a pretty audacious goal.”

After recently speaking to several community service organizations, Bearman said an additional 100 people have expressed interest in the mentorship program.

Because of limited resources, using Washburn’s available data to drill down into how best to serve first-generation students is key to the program’s success, he said.

“What it allows my group to do is look for trends, look for an individual’s performance in a more timely manner,” Bearman said. “Bottom line, we have access to data. What we do with the data, especially with the institute students, is that we track their attendance very closely. We don’t wait for mid-term grades, for example, to see how they’re doing. We’re able to track their grades almost on a weekly basis.”

“Data allows you to make these immediate course corrections,” he continued. “It allows you to look for those bigger trends. It allows you to know things so you’re not making decisions nearly as often using intuition. You still have to analyze the data, but it’s less now about intuition and more about actionable information.”

Bearman said the use of good data is important because time and money are scarce in an academic setting.

“You’re not just making sure the students are studying better,” he said. “This way, your team, your staff, they’re better able to invest their time.”

A data point Bearman said he is particularly proud of is the 3.3 cumulative grade point average achieved during the fall semester by the 20 first-generation students in the success institute. He said he and his staff’s goal for the group was originally a 2.75 cumulative GPA.

“It’s astounding,” he said. “You don’t know who to hug first. Never once did I dare to dream that, but we blew past that.”

Bearman said he gives much credit for the students’ academic success to the counselors and social workers in Topeka Unified School District 501 who helped Bearman and his staff identify those students when they were still in high school. Most of them were high achievers in high school, despite socioeconomic circumstances and other barriers.

Washburn’s Success Institute was recognized recently by University Business Magazine for being one of eight “models of excellence” in the U.S. for “innovative approaches to encouraging and nurturing student success on campus.”

A key aspect that garnered recognition by the national publication was that the students participate in the program through their sophomore year. Bearman said the original plan was that the success institute would be just one semester, like many similar programs across the country. However, he said when he learned through the USD 501 counselors and social workers that it can take up to 18 months to gain a student’s trust, it made sense to extend the program by two years for first-generation students who need extra support and guidance.

“It’s a fairly unique element,” Bearman said. “But it’s turning out to be one of the most important decisions we’ve made.”


Information from: The Topeka (Kan.) Capital-Journal, https://www.cjonline.com

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