Last spring, Dr. Richard Matthew and his trusted TAs once again enlisted the help of a typically untapped resource for his Sustainability II course. The environmentally-aware professor re-introduced an additional role to the traditional class dynamic, simply known as “mentor.” These mentors, who ranged from affiliated UCI faculty to exemplar undergraduates, act as a more personal liaison between the students and the faculty, while also managing their own, specialized research projects that are assigned to students.
Altogether, the addition of course mentors is only one element of the CUSA Director’s overall education model, entitled GRASP, which integrates the four domains of university-level curriculum, research, operations and engagement to create specialized projects that both engage students with real world issues and provide usable outputs for campus and/or community partners. Of the hand-selected group of mentors, CUSA undergrads Brandon Duong and Jaimie Wann were able describe their experience in a nutshell.
In a few words, how would you generally describe your experience mentoring?
Brandon: Mentoring was a really great experience for me. I felt good about being a large part of a project that was so fun and helpful for a place that I have strong ties to.
Jaimie: This was my first time mentoring and I learned that I should always expect the unexpected. It should be a rule of thumb to not assume that students come in with a general understanding of how to conduct research or use particular technology.
How was your constructed project tied to you and your current work/background/interests?
Brandon: The project was tied into my work at the Center for Living Peace, but the project as a whole was tied into my interest in becoming an educator. This was a small step into the world of a teacher (setting up deadlines, etc.), and it was nice to get a little experience in that way.
Jaimie: The Water Battle is an initiative I started with Student Housing during Fall 2012 through my PowerSave Campus internship. I am very interested in building awareness with the campus community creating water conservation habits that lead to permanent lifestyle.
What was your greatest challenge mentoring?
Brandon: The greatest challenge was being ready to answer all the questions that the students had, it was tough not knowing what they will need next, but that brought a little fun to the quarter.
Jaimie: It would definitely be students coming in without a general understanding of how to conduct research and how to use Google Doc/Microsoft Word technology. I guess it’s true in most cases, but starting from scratch takes a lot of mental effort.
What made you choose to participate in GRASP and the Sustainability II course in the first place?
Brandon: I wanted to mentor because I wanted to try something new before I graduated from UCI. The opportunity was presented to me, and I just took it.
Jaimie: Besides from being invited to mentor, I also had a generally good experience taking the Sustainability II class with Professor Matthew before. And if I enjoyed taking it all in, I thought I could also enjoy dishing it out!
How did it feel setting up meetings, instructing, and giving deadlines to fellow students only a year or two away from you?
Brandon: It definitely felt a little weird being in an overlooking position to students a year or two under me (one was actually graduating with me), but I never treated them like they were less intelligent. I had a specific set of skills and knowledge that would help them with their project and we all knew that was why I was their mentor.
Jaimie: I thought it would be awkward at first, but I think in the end, we all respect each other as peers.
Any thoughts about the implications of the data you received from students?
Jaimie: I think the research should be extended because there is definitely a lot more data we can look in.
Brandon: The data that they showed me implied that the tour they created would better inform people about the center and hopefully promote a return from them, if so, that would be so helpful to the Center and to the community as a whole.
To learn more about the GRASP education model, please view our separate article detailing it here.