When Dinora Flores began her freshman year, she applied to receive a mentor from the Student Mentors Advising Rising Talent (SMART) program to help guide her through her first year of college. The relationship that she formed with her mentor quickly blossomed into a strong friendship.

As a first generation college student, Flores wanted to make sure she had support from a mentor because they have the advice she needed. 

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“My relationship with my SMART mentor is great,” Flores said. “She's one of my best friends. She helps me when I'm stressed out, takes me out to eat, we have been shopping together, and she gives me rides. She also gives me great advice that can be applied to my personal life.”

Flores’ mentor, sophomore Shawna Harris-Lenoir, inspired her to become a SMART mentor for the upcoming school year.

SMART has been a mentoring program that has been around for nearly 24 years, according to the program coordinator and assistant director of The Center for Race, Ethnicity, and Diversity Education, Brandon Bell. 

Bell wants to emphasize the importance of mentoring and diversity, so they promote the program to students who identify as African American/Black, Latinx/Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native American/American Indian, Alaskan Native, Multiracial (ALANAM).

“Mentoring is important,” Bell said. “SMART is great place for student to engage in honest dialogue and explore the self. They are paired with students who just experienced what they are about to go through. SMART is here to explore and navigate race on a systematic level.”

In the 2017-2018 school year, Bell said that there were around 60 SMART mentors. He decided it would be beneficial to the program to narrow down the number of mentors to 32 for the 2018-2019 school year.

“I decided to have a smaller number of mentors and create mentor teams,” Bell said. “They will have two to three mentees. I think they will be mentoring the students of color and create solidarity. Mentorship does not mean one person has all the answers. They can still establish a one-on-one relationship, but they will also have a larger community.”

The one-on-one relationships are important to foster as well according to Becca Bishopric-Patterson, the assistant director of Gender and LGBTQIA Center, who is working to continue the Queer Peers mentoring program that began this 2017-2018 school year. Like Bell, she also wants to establish a community.

“The first meetings they will all be in one group and we hope to have group dinners,” Bishopric-Patterson said. “We paired folks over email this year, so that was hard. Next year, getting them in the same room will be better for the community and to be able to pair them in a better manner.”

Queer Peers had 4 mentors for this academic school year, and they had 5 mentees sign up. As the program continues, there is hope that these relationships will continue because Bishopric-Patterson had noticed informal relationships forming, but they wanted a more formal program, to ensure that both mentors and mentees got what they felt they needed from the program.

The program wants to ensure that mentors have the tools they need to succeed, so they are going to have the students go through a three hour training session as well as have continued training throughout the year.

“Mentor is being able to know what your role is and setting the boundaries, and not be the only person that they go to for support,” Bishopric-Patterson said. “There are so many great resources around campus to support students that are struggling through things. We want the mentors to practice self care. We want them to know what are their priorities, how to notice distress, but to think of the airplane example of putting on their own oxygen mask before helping someone else, which is what makes a good mentor.”

Bishopric-Patterson said Queer Peers wants to follow in the footsteps of the SMART mentoring program because of the success they have had and longevity. She believes that both programs are beneficial and important.

“There is strong evidence for key success with mentoring programs” Bishopric-Patterson said. “There is a survey that indicates that mentoring and relationships are key factors in students that find success and happiness after college as well as development of healthy habits. That is part of why these programs are so important.”