No matter the topic of conversation, the Sponsor Program—in which every first year student participates through their residence assignments—is ubiquitous in the lives of many first-years and their conversations at Pomona College.
“The Sponsor Program is a unique program as far as the mentor programs are concerned,” said Ric Townes, Dean of Campus Life and Associate Dean of Students at Pomona. “First-years are housed together in a Sponsor Group and the mentors are not housed together.”
Ola Gawlik PO ’14, a former sponsor and current Resident Advisor, said of the program that “it was a wonderful way to come to Pomona and have a group of people that are there. You have potential friends right there and you do all the activities together.”
Harvey Mudd College also has a mentor program for every incoming student, in which older students who are Orientation Sponsors are on campus during orientation week to help ease the transition to college. After orientation has ended, however, the Sponsors do not interact very much with the new students as mentors, according to Christopher Sundberg, Associate Dean of Students and Dean of Campus Life at HMC.
“The reason we created this program is basically to buttress the residence life system. It adds … formality to the residence life structure. The initial idea was to have the orientation sponsors continue on throughout the year. We tried that on a volunteer basis, but [the sponsors’] involvement diminished over time,” Sundberg said.
While many students have positive experiences with programs like Pomona’s Sponsor Program, it is not alway a perfect fit.
“The sponsor group—as well as other programs—experience really depends on individuals. The sponsors can make a huge difference,” Sean Zhu PO ’17 said.
“I did not have a very close experience with my sponsor group,” Gawlik said. “We didn’t all click, we didn’t hang out together … I wasn’t really part of my sponsor group.” She added that it was because of the nature of her experience that she decided to be a sponsor to improve the program for the incoming class. She has since remained involved with the Residence Halls Staff as an RA for two years.
In addition to these automatic-enrollment programs, there are other mentor programs aimed at helping specific communities of students find their place on campus. Some resources, such as the Chicano/Latino Student Affairs Sponsor Program and the Ujima Peer Mentoring Program through the Office of Black Student Affairs, are 5C programs meant to help students find their place at the colleges.
Not all student communities have 5C resources though. According to Angelica Ibarra, Assistant Dean for Institutional Diversity at HMC, there is no official five-college mentoring program for Asian Pacific Islander (API) students. As such, “it falls on the student clubs here at Harvey Mudd,” Ibarra said. The other campuses also have other API resources, but they are each distinct programs.
“We have a very large API community [at HMC]. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I think it’s about 25% of our students. It would be great for our API student to have a 5C resource center…I just wish we could provide some support at the institutional level,” Ibarra said.
Whatever the mentoring program and regardless of how it is structured, they are all designed in part to promote a smooth transition to college for first-year students.
“Pomona College has had this program for 80 years, [but] there haven’t been mentor programs for that long,” Townes said of Pomona’s Sponsor Program. “That doesn’t change our goal collaboratively; the goal for all of us is support the first years.”