INSPIRE duo

UMSL sophomore Alexis Ramos and Associate Professor of Chemistry Chung Wong are two of many campus community members participating in the INSPIRE mentoring program that was launched last fall by the Office of Multicultural Student Services. (Photo by August Jennewein)

When Chung Wong responded “yes” to a campus-wide call last summer for volunteers for a pilot mentorship program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis, the associate professor of chemistry was far from alone. Fellow faculty and staff members were quick to get behind the idea, and soon the Office of Multicultural Student Services was pairing them with students eager to make the most of their guidance and life experience.

“When it first started, they had a lunch meeting allowing the advisers and advisees to meet, and there were many, many people there,” Wong says. “I wanted to get involved because I have always felt that as teachers it’s not just about classroom teaching.”

Known as INSPIRE, the new mentoring program took off in September 2015, and looking back on the last six months or so, both students and those serving as mentors say they are finding it worthwhile. That includes sophomore Alexis Ramos, one of the students Wong is mentoring.

“I thought it’d be interesting to have a professor here be my mentor and be able to help me as an undergrad student and give me advice on things that would help me along the way,” she says. “I would definitely recommend doing it.”

As participants in INSPIRE, Ramos and Wong are expected to meet several times throughout each semester to discuss any concerns the student has academically or otherwise and just catch up and connect personally as well.

“It’s more relaxed, because the program isn’t intended to give them more work or add any stress but to see how we might be able to help,” Wong says. “And so sometimes we just share – for instance, we found that we have a shared interest in history.”

In Ramos’ case, it’s also made faculty seem more approachable – or “less scary,” as she says with a laugh.

“You get to learn about their lives and what they do here at school,” she adds. “They seem more real and less intimidating.”

Although many of their activities and discussions have been more informal, Wong and Ramos have also focused on her next steps looking ahead, and Wong has been instrumental as she begins networking professionally.

“I’m a pre-optometry student, and Professor Wong has a colleague who is a professor in the College of Optometry, so he set up a meeting, and the three of us had lunch together,” she says. “I was able to talk to that professor about our optometry school and others – and also about the application process.”

Rebecca McMenamin is one of the UMSL staff members who jumped at the opportunity to volunteer as a mentor last fall. She wanted to get involved because of the impact that such people have had on her own life and career.

“INSPIRE paired me with a student who is studying social work, a major similar to my education background, so we often discuss her career goals and what opportunities to pursue while at UMSL that will boost her marketability upon graduation,” says McMenamin, manager of veteran and military services. “This commonality was just the icebreaker, though. Within a few lunch dates, we got to know about each other’s families, upbringing and interests and feel that our personal connection has grown significantly.”

McMenamin adds that as a relatively new staff member herself, she loves learning about UMSL through the student’s perspective, has become more effective at her job and has even attended campus events she might not have before.

Recruiting faculty and staff volunteers who value student engagement and appreciate the role of mentors in student development has been critical to the pilot’s success, according to the MSS staff members spearheading the effort. For more information about INSPIRE or to inquire about getting involved as a mentor or as a student, contact Multicultural Student Services (multicultural@umsl.edu).

The UMSL Experience

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Evie Hemphill

Evie Hemphill

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life
Eye on UMSL: A day in the life

Students from UMSL’s College of Optometry and College of Nursing participated in a simulation designed to expose them to the complexities of poverty.

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life

Students from UMSL’s College of Optometry and College of Nursing participated in a simulation designed to expose them to the complexities of poverty.

Eye on UMSL: A day in the life

Students from UMSL’s College of Optometry and College of Nursing participated in a simulation designed to expose them to the complexities of poverty.