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Letters to the editor


Student success: it takes a community

With regards to your recent article, “Living-learning communities connect like-minded students in residence” (January-February 2019), the University of Guelph has had residence learning communities since 1969. The RLCs take several forms, both theme-based and academic-based. In 2015, my colleagues and I undertook a longitudinal study to investigate the impact of first-year students living in an RLC, as compared to living in another setting. Our paper was published in the September 2018 issue of the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (see citation below). To quote from the abstract: “Results indicated that RLC students, on average, achieved higher first-year averages, second-year retention rates and five-year graduation rates relative to non-RLC students, thereby contributing to the goals of postsecondary institutions to attract and retain their students through to graduation.”

Mildred Eisenbach
Ms. Eisenbach is the manager, residence learning communities, at the University of Guelph.

Hobbins, J. O., Eisenbach, M., Ritchie, K. L., & Jacobs, S. (2018). “Investigating the Relationship between Residence Learning Community Participation and Student Academic Outcomes in a Canadian Institution.” The Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 9 (2).


Mentorship, the real world and ambiguity

The initial premise of this article (“Moving away from a one-size-fits-all mentorship,” University Affairs online, January 29) focuses on the benefits of mentorship to support academic achievement. This internally oriented, academic focus certainly has its place but plays to the academy’s comfort zone. I believe that we should emphasize the importance of differentiating mentorship from academic instruction and supervision, regardless of the academic level of the student. The instructor is an authority figure, assessing and awarding a grade to the student for academic performance. To be recognized as someone’s mentor is a gift to the mentor, given by the mentee in appreciation of the value and wisdom provided by the mentor.

Community stakeholders (employers, community leaders and others) consistently emphasize the importance of learning to engage with mentors who can prepare our students for life after their rarefied university lifestyle. They consistently report their frustration with graduates who are not equipped to embrace ambiguity and who seek rubric-like performance expectations in the workplace.

The undergraduate experience we have evolved in the last few decades has, on the whole, created a chasm between the idealized aspirations, experiences, values and expectations of students and their professors, and the requirements of real life. University mentorship programs offer an opportunity to build a bridge between the academic preparation of undergraduates and the real world they will shortly engage with. Central to this process is the importance of building our students’ “tolerance of ambiguity” (as described by academic Peter O’Connor et al., 2018).

Mentorship programs should consider TOA as the “learning objective” of the program. Maybe the group mentorship concepts described in this article are a first step a student can take on their journey to developing TOA. But ultimately thriving on one-on-one relationships in a developing network, with the right mentors, will start the process of maturation needed to become a community leader who embraces ambiguity with confidence and creativity.

Martin Ferguson-Pell
Dr. Ferguson-Pell was the founding vice-principal of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College, and is a professor of rehabilitation medicine, at the University of Alberta.