Racer Connection Program opens new avenue for staff to give back

Story by Sabra Jackson, Staff writer 

Murray State faculty created the Racer Connection Program in March as a way for students to get more acquainted with campus and programs the university offers.

The program is designed to connect students who are on academic suspension or feel like they could use a mentor with a faculty member.  

Peggy Whaley, assistant director of the office of Student Engagement and Success, said the program is a way to increase retention and engage students in the university culture.

“It’s not about replacing advisors or instructors,” Whaley said. “It’s just another support person they can go to.”

The program connects a staff member with a student who may need extra support on campus or in the community.

Renee Fister, chief of staff, said the idea began as a webinar in a financial setting.

“The aspect was if we help these students to better have opportunities, then we can affect the whole person,” Fister said.

Whaley said a select group started the program and noticed students, freshmen and sophomores could benefit from having a mentor.

“The registrar’s office is now requiring that students be a part of this program,” Whaley said.

The mentor is required to meet with the student three times per semester. One of those meetings must be face-to-face, while the other two may be through email or text.

“The main requirement is just to listen, to be there for the student,” Whaley said. “Helping them go on the right path to solve the issue that they may be having.”

Whaley said the office tries to match students with mentors who have a similar background or degree that the student is pursuing.

“The connection has been really great,” Fister said. “The networking is one of the biggest opportunities for the students.”

Whaley said staff in different offices were asked if they would like to be a mentor, and there were many positive responses.

The steering committee that started the program asked the faculty why they were drawn to mentoring, to which every one of them replied, “I want to give back.”

Other members of the steering committee include: Wendy Cain, University Bursar, Ellen Dale, director of accounting and financial services and Fred Dietz, associate vice president for enrollment management.

Whaley said there are 15 to 20 staff members involved in the program, and some of the mentors have two students.

“Any staff or faculty member may become involved,” Fister said. “It’s making sure that the students understand that it is for their benefit.”

Fister said President Bob Davies has been very supportive because it is for the betterment of the students.

“It’s not just for freshmen or sophomores or the traditional student,” Fister said. “It’s for anybody who feels like they need a mentor and want one.”

Whaley said any faculty or students who want to participate in the program may contact her.