Closing Equity Gaps through a Peer Mentoring Program: The Impact of Being an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant


We know that high-impact practices (HIPs) are key to creating a powerful academic experience for undergraduate students. As the Boyer 2030 Report articulates (drawing on the foundational work of George Kuh), HIPs constitute “transformative educational experiences” that support student success, requiring “considerable time and effort from students, meaningful interactions between students and faculty, collaboration among individuals with diverse perspectives, consistent feedback and iteration, real-world application and practice, and opportunities for reflection” (p. 23). Kuh’s research further documents that HIPs typically have a disproportionately positive impact on historically underrepresented students and that those students are significantly less likely to volunteer to participate in HIPs.

Consequently, the Boyer 2030 report calls upon our campuses to “[make] evidence-based and high-impact practices core, not ‘extra’” (p. 24). Embedding experiential learning in required courses, or mandating internships are strategies for meeting this challenge. Another strategy is to develop peer mentorship programs that also provide participants with the structured reflection and collaboration with faculty that are the hallmarks of quality HIPS, and to structure these programs in ways that make them attractive and accessible to those students who are most likely to benefit from participation within them.

The undergraduate teaching assistant (UTA) program within the Department of Focused Inquiry at Virginia Commonwealth University is one such program. A recent examination of a decade of data from this initiative demonstrates clearly the potential benefit of peer mentoring programs to the academic success of the student mentors themselves.

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