The Compass 2 Campus Western Washington University Mentorship Initiative is a pilot program implemented by House Bill 1986 which passed both Houses of the legislature on April 21, 2009.
The program is designed to increase access to higher education by providing an opportunity for 5th grade students from traditionally underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds in Whatcom and Skagit counties to be mentored by university students.
Modeled after a successful program in Wisconsin, Compass 2 Campus aims to get more kids thinking early about college with the help of WWU student mentors and role models to show them the importance of higher education.
“Research tells us mentorship is the key,” said Cyndie Shepard, volunteer director of the program. “Kids who are mentored or who have a significant adult in their lives have a better chance of success.”
The program at WWU will grow each year, eventually covering fifth through 12th grades in selected schools.
Working with elementary school teachers, the WWU students learn about the kids’ aspirations and talk to them about how going to college can help them reach those dreams.
Shepard co-founded a program similar to Compass 2 Campus several years ago at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, where her husband, WWU President Bruce Shepard, was chancellor.
The Wisconsin program, which will graduate its first kids from high school this year, has shown improved grades and attendance among the youngsters who participated, Cyndie Shepard said. It’s set to start soon at a second university, UW Eau Claire.
“We found the more structured we became, the more purposeful we became, the better our results were looking,” she said. “We have a formula that works very, very well.”
While many mentoring programs focus their efforts on youngsters who have already shown academic promise or interest, Compass 2 Campus aims to reach all youngsters – even those who haven’t shown much potential at all.
“I think we miss a lot of very bright children by just assuming that they’ll never make it because they don’t do well in school,” Cyndie Shepard said. “We typically let those kids go. We’re saying ‘We’re not letting you go.’”
In middle and high schools, WWU students will assist students with academic skills and serve as role models and mentors to youngsters and teens building their futures.
The WWU mentors are receiving training through a three-credit class available to all majors. About half of the 430 students enrolled are from Western’s Woodring College of Education, or hope to be. The rest are from programs throughout campus.
Education students are usually tied down by their junior and senior years by other commitments that have them in classrooms, said Stephanie Salzman, dean of Woodring College of Education. So drawing WWU students from all disciplines is critical.
“It’s an opportunity to involve Western students who haven’t been involved before,” Salzman said. “This enhances the community outreach culture of this campus and the service orientation of our students.”