Arizona Assurance Scholars Learning to Focus on Success

The program was initiated by UA President Robert N. Shelton to increase access to higher education for Arizona residents. The program is in its second year and has added a peer and professional mentor component.
Aug. 20, 2009
From left to right: Yoshira Ornelas, Justin Van Horne and Kelsey Castellano three of 17 Arizona Assurance scholars who will serve as peer mentors.
From left to right: Yoshira Ornelas, Justin Van Horne and Kelsey Castellano three of 17 Arizona Assurance scholars who will serve as peer mentors.
Arizona Assurance Peer Mentors will host six workshops during the fall semester touching on topics such as stress management and library resources.
Arizona Assurance Peer Mentors will host six workshops during the fall semester touching on topics such as stress management and library resources.
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More than 700 new Arizona Assurance scholars will be welcomed into The University of Arizona by President Robert N. Shelton on Friday.

The new UA freshmen scholars will be attending Focus on Success, a one-day seminar to help acclimate students to an academic environment, to help them understand resources and to learn their responsibilities as Arizona Assurance scholars.

Arizona Assurance, a UA financial aid program initiated by Shelton, works to increase Arizona residents' access to higher education by enabling students to earn undergraduate degrees in four years, without accumulating significant financial debt.

The program, now in its second year, funds new freshmen scholars and the original scholars, who are now sophomores, with a combination of private and public funds. The funds cover college costs – including tuition, books, and room and board – for in-state students who are from families making $42,400 or less per year and who are eligible a federal pell grant.

The program helps support UA students like sophomore biology major Kelsey Castellano. She is from Scottsdale and left home when she was in high school. She has known that she wanted to go to college and what she wanted to be, since she was 11.

"I am studying biology but not to go into medicine but into science and ocean conservation environmental studies, focusing on coral reefs," Castellano said.

Focus on Success is a new initiative offered to students through the Arizona Assurance scholars program, in partnership with campus resources to provide students with information that can promote their success.

Support is provided for the Arizona Assurance scholars through a variety of programs aimed at retention. For example, Arizona Assurance scholars must be enrolled in a peer mentorship program to maintain their eligibility.

One opportunity available for the returning scholars is to be a peer mentor to incoming scholars. Castellano, along with 17 other second-year Arizona Assurance scholars, will serve as peer mentors to a portion of the incoming class of freshmen who are not already being mentored through other UA peer mentoring programs.

The student or peer mentorship component is headed by Arezu Corella, the senior coordinator for retention initiatives for the Arizona Assurance scholars program.

Student mentors agree to volunteer a minimum of three hours a week to provide leadership, friendship and support to incoming scholars that have been assigned to them. In addition, the peer mentors will attend weekly meetings and host a series of six workshops throughout the semester on topics such as stress management, library resources and academic success.

"I am so grateful for the program. I don't know of any other university offering this kind of academic and financial support. As for mentoring, I am looking forward to meeting and getting to know the students and offering them support. I want them to experience and love every little part of this university so they don't get discouraged and leave," said peer mentor Yoshira Ornelas, a sophomore microbiology major and co-president of the Arizona Assurance Scholars Organization, a new student club organized by the scholars.

In addition to volunteering as a peer mentor, students have the opportunity to get a job on campus. Ornelas begins work this fall with BIO5, promoting the study of science in area high schools.

The peer mentorship program serves as one of many opportunities the Arizona Assurance students have to gain academic support and learn about UA resources.

"The peer mentorship program will be serving a portion of scholars who are not involved with other mentorship programs housed at the UA, such as the MERITS program, or mentorship programs offered through the UA,cultural centers, or through colleges or departments such as those provided for psychology students through the psychology department," Corella said. 

Peer mentors will also serve as outreach volunteers in the spring and will go out to middle schools in Tucson, meeting students with similar backgrounds, who would most likely qualify for the financial aid program. The peer mentors can earn up to three units of credit for their time dedicated to outreach for the program as well as their role as peer mentors. 

"I look forward to going back to my hometown and promoting the UA and the Arizona Assurance Program. I grew up in Prescott Valley and went to a very small high school with a graduating high school of 40 students. To come here and become a mentor to others and to be able to provide leadership and speak before  hundreds of students is a very big deal. I am humbled," said Justin Van Horne, an engineering sophomore, Arizona Assurance peer mentor and co-president of the Arizona Assurance Scholars Organization. 

Adding additional support to the program are the more than 350 UA faculty, graduate students and staff who have signed up to be professional mentors for the scholars.

The professional mentor component of the program is headed by Mary Irwin, assistant director of enrollment and student retention.     

"Peer mentors and faculty mentors each have different support roles. Mentor peers are going through the same experience as their mentees and faculty or professional mentors have already succeeded academically and professionally at varying levels in their chosen careers. Both types of mentors can make a world of difference to these students," Corella said. 

Professional mentors from all areas of study or expertise are still needed, as all of the scholars will be linked with a professional mentor.

Mentors agree to meet with their students' twice during the semester to provide a professional network connection, friendship, academic guidance and career experience.

"They are really there as a resource and example of someone who has made it through the educational maze and can link students to areas of support on campus," Irwin said.

UA faculty, graduate students and staff interested in becoming mentors may sign up by calling Mary Irwin at 520-621-3673.