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SAFE... Mentoring New Students

Reflecting St. John’s University’s focus on student success, 20 faculty from across the University are mentoring more than 100 freshmen as part of a new program created by a professor of education and implemented in partnership with the University Freshman Center and other campus departments.

The Student and Faculty Engagement (SAFE) Program was created by Andrew Ferdinandi, Ed.D., Associate Professor of Human Services and Counseling in The School of Education at St. John’s. The goal of SAFE is to provide freshmen with mentors who can help them successfully transition from high school to college.

New Program Trains Faculty to Mentor Freshmen

The program recruits faculty mentors to assist first-year students, building trust and opportunities for engagement. “Students have told me that having a quality relationship with someone on campus makes a huge difference in how they feel about college,” said Dr. Ferdinandi. “We’ve found that the more involved a student is, the greater the chances of graduating.”

Throughout the summer of 2011, the program trained faculty volunteers to engage students through SAFE. They learned the importance of using language that is inclusive, supportive, and non-judgmental. Depending on their individual schedules, the professors agreed to mentor from three to 10 students each for an entire year.

After the training concluded, professors began reaching out in June with “good will” phone calls to incoming freshmen.  “There are many things we learn from students through this kind of phone call,” said Dr. Ferdinandi. “Asking them questions will help us get to know each student and determine if there is anything we need to do to help them successfully adjust to college life.”

Monthly outreach continued throughout the academic year, so mentors can ask students about their transition to college life.  “New students typically have a lot of the same concerns,” Dr. Ferdinandi explained. “So our volunteers cover topics like choosing a major, finances, residence life, making friends and campus activities. In essence, we try to determine how well a student is making a connection to the school.”

“I am honored that so many faculty have given of their time and energy to help bring SAFE to life,” said Dr. Ferdinandi.  “I don’t think any other university is engaging students to the degree that we are with SAFE.  It is very exciting.”

Faculty volunteers sometimes needed assistance in answering students’ questions. It is for this reason that campus partners were established.  “The University community has been very willing to support this initiative” Ferdinandi stated.  “Networking with the campus partners has not only helped the students, but our faculty too.”

As SAFE faculty members connected with specific departments, they also boosted their knowledge of the many services available to our students. As a result, students gained additional contacts to help them on campus. When students did not have a positive transition, their faculty mentors and campus partners worked as a team to resolve the issue.

While Dr. Ferdinandi spearheaded SAFE, he is grateful for vital assistance he received from the St. John’s community. “Having an idea is a starting point,” he said. “But it takes many people to bring an idea to life.” In particular, he mentioned Julia Upton, RSM, Ph.D., and Jacqueline Grogan, Ed.D., Associate Provost for Student Success. He also thanked Geraldine Castelli, Assistant Director for the University Freshman Center, for the hours she dedicated as a facilitator between the parties involved.

“When we take the time to help a student and show them we care about them not just with words but action, we do the work of St. Vincent,” said Dr. Ferdinandi. “That speaks to the core of what St. John’s is about.”

SAFE is now seeking to invite all members of the St. John’s community to become a mentor to assist first-year students.  If you are interested in joining SAFE, please send your contact information to