USF works to close learning gaps for male students with mentorship program

When Ethan Brooks first enrolled in a new mentoring program for male undergraduates at the University of South Florida as a sophomore, he thought it might help him figure out how to navigate classes and get research opportunities.

But in just a few months, his relationship with his mentor, a senior major in chemical engineering, has become a vital lifeline of the college.

“It’s good to have someone to ask questions to,” Brooks said he felt he could accomplish anything, including note-taking strategies, how to deal with different professors, or more basic life advice.

USF hopes such mentoring relationships can be a step toward addressing a long-standing problem: the growing gap in college graduation rates between male and female students.

Across the country, men are falling behind women not only in college enrollment but also in college graduation rates — and the gap has slowly widened in recent decades.

Show national data that male students who enrolled in a four-year college in 2013 were 10 percentage points less likely to graduate within four years than female students. This trend was stronger at USF. Men who enrolled at USF in 2013 were 18 percentage points less likely than women to graduate within four years.

A USF study of students admitted during the summer and fall of 2014-2016 also found that male students were 62 percent more likely to get more than a D or F grade in college and 76 percent more likely to get a 2nd grade .0 or lower university had grade point average.

Paul Dosal, vice president for student success, said the gender gap in graduation rates is the biggest equity gap facing the university.

“The roots are deep and difficult to dig out,” he said. “It’s part of a much bigger problem in society.”

The school started the mentoring pilot program Last fall, more than 4,000 male students who started college in 2020 or 2021 were invited. More than 200 students wanted to participate. Dosal said USF wanted to design the program in a way that people didn’t feel like it was aimed at people who have problems.

For Brooks, who started college during the pandemic, the mentoring program has given him a better way to feel connected. He said his freshman year of college felt lonely at times, with few on-campus gatherings. Even getting food in the canteens was an isolating experience as students sat apart from each other.

“It was just a bad time to be human,” he said. “Everyone’s mental health was very poor.”

The university recognizes that students, particularly male students, need better connections on campus, said Carmen Goldsmith, senior liaison to the vice president of student success and program manager for USF’s Male Student Success Initiative.

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“If we could find a way to connect them with other students, professional mentors, they would have someone to turn to,” Goldsmith said, saying she hopes to expand the program in the years to come .

USF has partnered with an organization called the Mentor Collective, which matches mentees with mentors. The program requires mentors and mentees to connect at least three times a month, whether through simple text messages or face-to-face meetings.

Gender differences in college graduation rates can start as early as kindergarten, he said William Cummings, Professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Humanities and Chairman of the President’s Advisory Committee on the Status of Men. Since the 1950s, boys have lagged girls in the K-12 system in everything from graduation rates to test scores, he said. Many studies have pointed to multiple theories, including cultural and biological factors.

But having peer group mentors could be helpful in bridging that gap, Cummings said.

“We know that the current generation is much more likely to listen to each other than a senior USF administrator or a professor,” he said. “An 18- or 19-year-old (old) student, on average, is less likely to read my email than to listen to each other.”

Mahmoud Youssef, a senior specializing in finance and economics, has seven people who he mentor during the program.

He said he was surprised at how many people need an outlet to talk.

Some come to him with questions about the relationship or how to deal with their parents. Some ask about accommodation as an international student. Others have questions about the school.

“As an international student who came to America, I had a lot of problems,” he said. “If I knew … it would be so easy to just text a person who’s been through it all and say, ‘What should I do?’ or ‘Can you help me with this?’ or just tell me who to ask, that would have made my life a lot easier.”

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