When Sara "Sally" Sally Keis was a freshman at University of Wisconsin-Stout, she felt overwhelmed and wished she could talk to upper classmen in her major, early childhood education.
Now a senior, Keis, of Richfield, Minn., is trying to make sure other freshmen have a better experience. During the fall semester, with the guidance of Associate Professor Jill Klefstad, the program director, they implemented a student mentor program.
A total of 39 mentor-mentee pairs were formed early in the fall. Juniors or seniors have connected with a freshman to provide advice, offer support and help the younger students stay on track throughout their first year, with an overall goal of building a stronger community of ECE majors.
A total of 90 students are participating.
"I think it's important to have a close-knit community, especially in ECE, so students in all stages of the program can learn from one another and build off of each other's ideas," Keis said.
The program seems to be working well, Klefstad said. Keis and Victoria Brain, of Rice Lake, handle the logistics, track the status of the mentor-mentee relationships and serve as mentors themselves.
With more mentees than mentors, some mentors are paired with two students.
Keis is mentoring Erin Diamond, of Cottage Grove, Minn. They met several times during the recently completed fall semester and stayed in touch. "Having a mentee like Erin made it easy because she was so excited about the program," Keis said.
Diamond appreciates the support from Keis. "Sally told me to get involved with as many ECE programs and meetings that I could and to get to know other ECE majors, so they can help me out too," Diamond said.
Diamond would get texts from Keis and see her at ECE events. "She made situations more positive," Diamond said.
Diamond has wanted to be a teacher for as long as she can remember. "I love watching the joy children get when they figure out a concept," she said.
Keis will graduate in May and is excited to realize her lifelong dream of becoming a teacher.
Helping 'guide the way'
Another mentor-mentee pair is Jenny Marsh, of Plymouth, Minn., who is helping Ashley Griffin, of Eau Claire.
Marsh loves connecting with others and having authentic relationships. "I remember being a freshman having many positive people to help guide the way, so I wanted to try to be that for someone else," she said.
By mentoring, Marsh has learned that she is more knowledgeable about her major than she thought she was. She felt confident answering questions and easing Griffin's worries.
Marsh also hopes she has inspired Griffin. "Ashley has a love and passion for being at UW-Stout. I am confident that she will keep that same attitude throughout her time here and pass her excitement on to others," Marsh said.
Griffin, who at times felt overwhelmed and confused, appreciates her connection with Marsh. "She was helpful with my class schedule selection and also gave me advice on future classes. We talked several times through email and met just to chat about life one afternoon," Griffin said.
Griffin worked at a daycare for 11 years but returned to school "because it is my dream to be a kindergarten teacher. I am very passionate about making a difference in children's lives as well as being a fun and upbeat teacher that sets an amazing example" Griffin said.
By helping Griffin, Marsh is getting a head start on what she believes is her calling in life. Marsh chose her major because of the influential teachers and role models she has experienced. "I believe God wants me to love and serve others, and this degree will allow me to do that," she said.
Sally Keis, center, is a mentor to Erin Diamond, front, in the early childhood education program at UW-Stout. At left is Associate Professor Jill Klefstad, program director.A total of 90 students have been involved as mentors or mentees.
Mentee Ashley Griffin, left, and mentor Jenny Marsh meet for the last time this semester.