MLFTC, AmeriCorps partner to help students move forward and give back


Meghan Krein

Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College is partnering with AmeriCorps to recruit sophomores and juniors as mentors for first-year students. The $160,000 grant aims to increase MLFTC undergraduate students’ engagement in college and university activities, knowledge of services and resources, awareness of financial options, and academic support, says Erica Mitchell, executive director, Student Services.

Erica Mitchell

MLFTC will hire and train the selected 50 mentors on strategies in community building, awareness, academic success and overall well-being. Each mentor will be responsible for five first-year students for 10 hours every week throughout the academic year, beginning in September. The mentors will deliver trainings on key support areas — chosen by freshmen — such as wellness, career, finances, academics and community, says Mitchell. The mentors will be supervised by the MLFTC Student Success Team coaches and supported by peer coordinators. Mentors will also have direct access to faculty and experts in their field to draw additional skills and knowledge. 

In return, AmeriCorps members will receive a $2,600 living stipend and a $1,300 education award to help pay for college, graduate school, vocational training or student loans. Out-of-state students who participate in the program will be eligible for resident tuition upon completion of one year of service. 

This grant differs from one MLFTC received in 2015, Mitchell says. “The previous grant was an education award only, and students had to be enrolled in student teaching at a Title I school to qualify. Students would complete their service hours as part of student teaching,” she says. Now, many MLFTC students are paid by the school districts for their student teaching, meaning the experience is no longer considered service and doesn’t qualify for AmeriCorps. “This required us to rethink our program design and we submitted a new grant proposal,” she says.

“As a college specifically dedicated to preparing educators, retaining and graduating qualified teachers is of the utmost importance,” says Mitchell. In this new iteration, the AmeriCorps program focuses on freshmen retention in MLFTC teacher preparation programs. “Personalized, team-based support is rare in large public, research institutions in higher education due to a sizeable student population and paucity of resources,” Mitchell says.

An additional goal of the AmeriCorps mentoring program, Mitchell says, is to narrow the engagement and achievement gap for at-risk, economically disadvantaged and underrepresented student groups. “The design of the program is supported by existing research on peer-mentoring in higher education and the need for additional support for at-risk student populations based on MLFTC retention data,” she says. University-based peer-mentoring programs, Mitchell says, can help students feel more connected and integrated to the university, which yields increased retention. 

MLFTC experimented with both weekly and biweekly mentoring programs, says Mitchell, and found that students who met with their mentor on a weekly basis had higher GPAs. “If someone is not connecting with students on a weekly basis, the academic success and retention are negatively affected,” Mitchell says. 

Learn more about the AmeriCorps mentor program