I have just returned from a second meeting at Bennett College [it turns out that the easy one hour highway drive takes more out of me than I would have imagined. I must really be getting old.] We made a great deal of progress today in refining and shaping the Pilot Program I devised, and I can now say something about its outlines. [I realize that this does not compare in importance with the massacre in Syria or the future of the Eurozone or the vast continuing problems facing men and women all over the world, but I can really only have opinions about those things, and I may be able actually to make a difference at Bennett, so I hope you will forgive me if I go on about this for a while.]
In the next week or two, we shall recruit ten members of the faculty to serve as Instructor/Mentors [IM's] to sixty incoming Freshwomen whom we shall select from the class of 2016. Esther Terry has made the splendid suggestion that we call these young women Willa B. Player Scholars after the first woman to hold the Presidency of Bennett College. Player was president during the very time that Esther was an undergraduate there in the late fifties.
The sixty students, chosen so as to represent a cross-section of the entering class in both academic preparation and geographic background, will be divided into ten groups of six students, each group to be assigned to one of the ten members of the faculty.
During the next three months, the IM's [these are the faculty members, remember] will be in touch with the members of their group by phone, email, Twitter, and whatever other social networking instrumentalities exist, introducing them to one another, discussing what they will encounter when they come to the campus, and in general forging a personal and intellectual bond with them.
For Academic Year 2012-2013, each IM will design a yearlong six-credit course especially for his or her six students. This course will be a part of the students' regular course load and a part as well of the IM's regular teaching load. The subject matter of the first semester is up to the individual IM, but in the second semester, in each of the ten courses taught by the IM's, each student will choose an individual research project on any topic the student likes. The work of the second semester will be this research project, guided by the IM's. Students will learn how to do research, how to use the library [and not just Google!], how to develop an outline, write drafts, and eventually produce a research report of not less than fifteen pages, on which the grade for the second semester will be based. At the end of the Spring semester, Bennett will hold an all-day conference, open to all members of the college community, at which students will make short public presentations of their research.
The IM's will be expected to know what other courses their Mentees are taking, where they are having difficulty, what problems are interfering with satisfactory completion of their academic work. The IM's will help the students to find appropriate support and solutions for these problems, whether they are writing problems, math problems, roommate problems, problems at home, or any of the other difficulties that students encounter when they go away to college.
Over the summer after this first year, and all during the next year, the IM's will stay in touch with their students, continuing to guide them and encouraging them to complete their work in a timely and satisfactory manner.
From the very beginning of the program, the fundamental assumption will be that every student admitted to Bennett is capable, with the right help and encouragement, of doing satisfactory work and of earning a Bachelor's Degree.
The short-term goal of the program is to achieve a one-year retention rate of 80% -- which means that of the sixty students who enter the program now, at least forty-eight will return in the Fall of 2013 as Sophomores in good standing. This would represent a dramatic improvement on the current record of success at Bennett.
If the initial results or promising, we will launch a second, expanded Pilot Program next Summer for the new incoming class. Ten more faculty will be recruited to serve as IM's. Eventually my hope is that the entire faculty of sixty-one regular full time professors will serve as IM's to the entire Freshwomen and Sophomore student body.
The long-term goal of this program is to raise the six-year graduation rate at Bennett to at least 60% from its present rate of 39%. This would put Bennett above the national average, and well above the average for Historically Black Colleges and Universities.There is a great deal of work to be done, and we are only now at the beginning.