Professor Protégé Program fosters freshmen success
Aubrey Grazier, a Slippery Rock University special education major from Lower Burrell, said SRU’s Professor Protégé Program helped her develop the confidence to become a teacher. She recently served as a teacher’s aid in her sister’s first-grade class at Ocoquan Elementary School in Virginia. (Photo by Austyn Hartung)
Jan. 11, 2016
SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. - When Aubrey Grazier was a high school senior exploring college options, she admits to feeling anxious about the academic challenges of higher education.
"Before I went to college, I was extremely nervous to talk in front of an audience," said Grazier, a Slippery Rock University special education major from Lower Burrell. Grazier credits SRU's Professor Protégé Program with helping her to overcome this fear.
"As a teacher, speaking in front of people is what you do every day, and I can honestly say SRU's Professor Protégé Program has benefitted my public speaking skills," she said. "The program definitely sealed the deal for me to attend SRU."
"Mentor" programs for freshmen used to be limited to the basics - course-scheduling meetings with an adviser, get togethers with a senior over pizza and tutoring. SRU's Professor Protégé Program for freshmen education majors partners students with an education faculty for one-on-one mentoring outside the classroom.
Protégés, who are selected as high school seniors through a competitive evaluation process involving SRU education faculty, earn student wages of up to $800 a year and receive iPads as an incentive to succeed. Nineteen SRU education professors - the most ever - said they would accept a mentor next year.
"The Professor Protégé Program is a unique undergraduate fellowship program," said Keith Dils, dean of the College of Education. "It is a competitive program. Approximately 23-25 of the most qualified students are selected each year."
"The iPads are funded by the generous donations of private donors who have been approached to support this program by the College of Education and our development office," Dils said. "The protégé's are taught to use the iPads to better fulfill their Professor Protégé Program job duties. Faculty are also trained how to use them to develop engaging and impactful learning opportunities for their students during field experiences and student teaching."
Grazier said the program helped her hone her professional skills.
"Another helpful aspect would be the obligations that the job made me uphold," she said. "This established and bettered my organizational skills for important tasks."
She said she has gained confidence and will present at a national education conference later this year in St. Louis, Missouri.
"I most certainly would recommend the program to another freshman because it is a great way to get your professional career started," she said. "Not many universities or departments provide this opportunity to become acquainted with a professor and start a research project. It establishes a professional environment and gives the student a taste of what they are going to encounter in their major."
Support from professors can make a real difference for freshmen as they navigate the academic and social challenges of college, said Jeremy Lynch, SRU assistant professor of special education.
The Protégé Program is especially helpful because it matches students with professors who teach in their chosen field of education. Lynch served as Grazier's mentor last year.
He said professors, who do not receive compensation for the mentoring, work with students as academic and life coaches.
"We sit down and we talk to these kids about everything," he said. "They get professional development that no one else in the College of Education gets that is specifically designed for those students, as they deal with certain aspects of education and college life."
To apply for the fellowship, high school seniors submit their high school grade-point averages, write an essay about their career goals and provide two letters of recommendations.
Last year, SRU received 30 applications. The deadline for next year is May.
He said a committee of six-education faculty selects the fellows, based on merit, not demographics.
"We're hoping we get the biggest pool of applicants we've ever had," he said.
"We're the only school that does a program like this," he said. "I've gone and presented this program at several national conferences. And their response is always, 'you do this with freshman?'"
The program gives freshmen research experience and the opportunity to present research at professional conferences, said Philip Way, SRU provost and vice president for academic and student affairs.
"It's amazing, when you push Protégé students and challenge them, they'll respond," he said. "This is a program they can't get anywhere else. Our faculty does a terrific job of mentoring these students. In the end, terrific relationships are established, valuable skills are developed and terrific service or scholarship outcomes are produced."
As future teachers, education majors need as much insight into the profession as possible, Lynch said.
"The program gives them a better sense of their field. It gives them more experiences," he said.
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