University President Mary Sue Coleman and the University’s Mentorship Program have different visions of what kinds of students Coleman should be advising.
The program contacted some of its participants during the summer to ensure that the students paired with Coleman were engaging and articulate, program coordinator Ayanna McConnell said. McConnell raised concerns about giving the president more introverted freshmen, mainly because of her busy schedule.
But Coleman said she would not care whether her mentees were open or shy. “I would like to have anybody,” Coleman said, adding that she hopes to convey that thought to the Mentorship Program if she participates again next year.
Staff members at the Office of New Student Programs talked to top students in the Mentorship Program planning to major in natural sciences to find out more information about their likes and dislikes, in order to pair them with Coleman, whose field is chemistry. These interviews are not normally standard procedure, McConnell said.
The ONSP offers the Mentorship Program as a way to help freshmen further acclimate to the University. The program pairs three freshmen with one student mentor and one faculty mentor, all with similar academic interests. The groups meet periodically throughout the year.
McConnell said Coleman wanted to commit about five to six hours a month to the program, while most other mentors give six to eight hours. “She would probably have more limited time than any other faculty mentors,” she said.
McConnell also said many students sign up for the mentorship program and then drop out after they come to the University, realizing it’s not for them. “I’m sure that President Coleman could handle any of the students,” she said.
Coleman had no input in the decision to screen her potential mentees, McConnell said.
Coleman said she has enjoyed the program so far, having participated in a similar one when she was provost at the University of New Mexico in the mid-1990s. She emphasized that her participation is another way for her to get involved with the University community.
“I certainly don’t want anything to be different for me … I just want to be treated like anybody else,” she said.
Two of the students mentored by Coleman, LSA freshman Sylvia Cho and LSA freshman Elizabeth Campbell, said they remember being interviewed during the summer about their interests, but don’t recall why.
“I just thought it was part of the process … I didn’t know if it was typical or not,” Cho said.
Since she took office, Coleman has also held monthly fireside chats with selected students and meeting with student groups. Unlike her predecessor Lee Bollinger, she decided early in her tenure not to teach a class, despite her joint appointment in the Chemistry and Biochemistry departments. Bollinger taught a political science class on the First Amendment every fall semester of his presidency.