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Clark Johnson, Minnesota State University-Mankato 
Dana Deming-Hodapp, Chisago County Human Services, Minnesota
Lynae Johnsen, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Mentor Connection is a program in which students on academic probation work closely with a graduate assistant mentor who helps the students strategize for class success and monitors their progress throughout the semester. The program is housed in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences’ undergraduate advising center at Minnesota State University, Mankato.

Each graduate assistant has a caseload of approximately twenty students on academic probation. While students are expected to participate in the program, they are not required to participate. About 40% of students on probation choose to participate.

Weekly staff meetings address the challenges of working with the probationary students. Mentors learn about probation rules, program expectations, record keeping, and effective techniques for working with students on probation. Program leadership is provided by a graduate student who serves as the “mentor connection coordinator” and maintains records, assigns the caseloads, and provides peer leadership among the mentors.

Each semester begins with probation students completing self-assessments that provide an introspective look into their situations. Topics discussed include studying without distractions, developing interest in subjects, gaining confidence in academic ability, desiring a degree, motivation to attend class, how to approach professors, balancing outside interests, and garnering support from friends and family. Students describe the events or actions that most negatively affected last semester’s academic performance and identify potential actions that can improve the current semester. Students with outside employment indicate how many hours are worked each week, and if work interferes with their studies.

Self-assessments become the vehicle mentors and students use to come to a mutual understanding of the students’ situations. Students often are in denial about their academic situation, and many attribute their lack of success to factors which they can not control. Mentors help students identify internal, controllable factors and help them make changes to remove obstacles to success.

Though the process varies for each mentor and student, the program is built around students’ need to understand class expectations, along with development and implementation of effective strategies. Students and mentors review the course syllabi and students document each course’s expectations for projects, papers, tests, etc. All assignments are placed on a semester calendar. When students are not clear about the assignment expectations, mentors encourage students to speak with professors and report back at the next meeting.

Mentors follow up with students regarding their class progress and pursue a wide range of topics. Mentors and students discuss the “big picture” and students are asked to express their college and life goals. Students present remarkably diverse needs. Mentors do not shy away from helping students address non-academic needs that affect academic performance and make appropriate referrals as needed. Mentors offer an open ear and another set of eyes on many subjects important to students.

Students experience many situations and conditions in common. They frequently cite one or more of the following factors as contributing to their placement on academic probation: making school a low priority, poor time management, working too much, difficulty adjusting to the college environment and study expectations, procrastination, test anxiety, poor test-taking and study skills, failing to attend class, financial stress, scheduling classes too early in the day, taking on an unrealistic workload, poor attitude, lack of motivation, and living/studying in distracting environments.

At the end of the semester students complete a second self-assessment. Mentors and students compare the initial and the second self-assessments and review student progress. Students also complete an anonymous evaluation of the program.

Program Assessment

Mentor Connection effectively tracks students on academic probation and maintains files on each participant. Participants are retained, improve their grade point average, and are removed from academic probation at a much higher rate that would be expected.

  • 82.7% of program participants returned to MSU the following semester, as compared to only 50.6% of those who did not participate and 55.9% for those referred to another campus office.
  • 74.7% of participants increased their gpa, compared to 46.6% of non-participants and 52.9% of students referred elsewhere.
  • 39.3% of participants moved off probation, compared to 27.2% of non-participants and 29.4% of students in other MSU probation programs.

Participants report an increase in their motivation and an improved academic support system; they express satisfaction with their experience. Of 136 participants who evaluated the program over seven semesters, 134 thought that their mentor was helpful. Participants indicate that their mentor experiences helped them: feel like they belonged at the University, recognize that people care, build the confidence needed to achieve, and better understand how to be successful.


Mentor Connection works. Its focus on helping students identify internal controllable factors is key to creating student change. The ongoing support and open sharing of progress and challenges serve to buttress students in a self-supporting way. The key to success is working one-on-one in a professional yet caring manner with students as they begin to accept responsibility for their academic performance. Nonetheless, we would like more students to participate and complete the program and continue studying student needs so that we may better understand and attract students to the program and to keep them involved in it.

Graduate students indicate that the most satisfying part of their jobs is working with the students. Most graduate assistants were recently undergraduates; thus the connections they make with students may be a result of their proximity to the students’ personal and collegiate experience and their genuine interest in the work.

Mentor Connection is time and labor-intensive, thus appropriate resources are needed. To be successful, a program must have access to graduate assistants or sufficient advising staff. A campus must commit to interventionist assistance for probationary students. Assuming that resources and commitment are present, caring, student-centered professionals should be able to adapt the Mentor Connection Program model to their situations and can expect that students will respond with improved academic performance.

Clark Johnson
Minnesota State University, Mankato

Dana Deming-Hodapp
Chisago County Human Services, Minnesota

Lynae Johnsen
University of Nebraska-Lincoln


Bartlett, T. (2004) Back from the Brink. Retrieved May 29, 2004 from http://chronicle.com, Section: Students, Vol. 50, Issue 36, Page A39.

DesJardins, S. L. & Jie, W. (2002). An Analytic Model to Assist Academic Advisors. NACADA Journal, 22(1), 32-44.

Higgins, E. (2003). Advising Students on Probation. Retrieved January 6, 2004 fromNACADA Clearinghouse of Academic Advising Resources Web site: http://www.nacada.ksu.edu/clearinghouse/advisingissues/probation.htm

Kelley, K. N. (1996). Causes, Reactions, and Consequences of Academic Probation: A Theoretical Model. NACADA Journal, 16(1), 28-34.

Cite this article using APA style as: Johnson, C., Deming-Hodapp, D. & Johnsen, L. (2005, December). Mentor Connection: Building success for students on academic probation. Academic Advising Today, 28(4). [insert url here]



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Academic Advising Today, a NACADA member benefit, is published four times annually by NACADA: The Global Community for Academic Advising. NACADA holds exclusive copyright for all Academic Advising Today articles and features. For complete copyright and fair use information, including terms for reproducing material and permissions requests, see Publication Guidelines.