Civil Engineering Mentors Proposal

Peter T. Martin PhD PE

Head of Civil Engineering

January 2015
This proposal has the goal of reducing the time students take to graduate in the Civil Engineering program from up to 9 years to 4-5 years.
Only 30% of Civil Engineering students graduate within 6 years.  Many fail to graduate within 6 years because they’ve chosen the wrong major and the mathematical demands of the program are simply too much.  Others face problems beyond their control.  But there are likely some who would graduate far more quickly, were they given better support and more guidance.  This proposal shows how modest funding can enable a critical group of our students to succeed, with the correct intervention and help.  More importantly, the proposal will show how we can change our methods to enable us to accelerate graduation for future generations of engineering students.

The Problem

We have a poor graduation rate and many of those who do graduate, are taking too long.  We can help students from home backgrounds where there is little understanding of the rigors of earning an engineering degree.  We can help students who are compelled to work full time.  While we have many advising support programs, we don’t have one that is specific to Civil Engineering students.


Two years ago, the faculty of the Civil Engineering Department voted to initiate a ‘three-strikes’ policy.  When a student has taken a particular class three times, and is yet to pass, the Department now mandates that the student be removed from the program.  While this policy will serve to remove struggling students, it does little to help them.  It’s a stick looking for a carrot.

The Idea

Advising is key in working with struggling students, but unfortunately, those in greatest need of advice are least likely to seek it.  So, if funded, we plan to introduce a new status for struggling students, well before they reach the ‘three strikes’ elimination stage.  Instead, we propose monitoring students repeating classes, as well as those with low engineering GPAs.  We will define criteria for Probationary Status that will identify those students requiring help.  They will sign a contract that will require them to work with their advisor, and a specially trained graduate student serving as a mentor, through a newly developed program.
The probationary student will be required to meet with his or her mentor three times a week.  At each meeting, the mentor will review the student’s workload, assignments, and projects.  The review will require the student to deliver dates and times to deliver and review graded assignments.  Mentors will work with teaching faculty to confirm assignment submissions.  The mentor will also document the work submitted and omitted.
The mentors who will compile the student’s performance throughout the semester will set clear expectations as defined in the contract.  The reports will be passed on to the Advisor who will meet with the student and mentor at least three times per semester.
Mentors will be trained on the curriculum and all of its intricacies.  The mentor will liaise between faculty and the student when required.  The mentor, who will have charge of three students, will submit a report to the Advisor containing facts, observations, and recommendations.  The reports will be reviewed, as a group, by the entire faculty as part of the continuous assessment process at the end of the Fall and Spring semesters.  Detailed records of mentor supervision will be compiled to identify trends, cause, and effect.

Project Objectives

If successful, the project will double the number of students graduating in Civil Engineering in under 6 years.  See calculation below.

One year cohort 60
Graduating in 6 years or less (30%) 18
Struggling students = 60-18 42
Assume 50% are unsuited to engineering 21
Potential Students Graduating earlier as a result of program 21

Plan for Implementation

  1. Draw up contract for ‘at risk students’ and get approved by faculty.
  2. Draw up mentor documentation, report format, and metrics.
  3. Select and train grad student mentors.
  4. Test and screen grad student mentors.
  5. Establish 5-person panel to identify ‘at-risk’ student candidates (composed of Associate Department Head, Senior Student, three faculty).
  6. Assign each mentor to three students.
  7. Mentor and monitor for semester.
  8. Review reports and document performance.
  9. Repeat for 2nd semester.  Report findings.


  • The Department Head supported by the Associate Department Head will identify candidate students for the mentorship program.
  • The faculty advisor will be responsible for meeting the mentors and students three times a semester.
  • The entire faculty will review the reports at the end of each semester.
  • The Department Head supported by the Associate Department Head will identify candidate students for the mentorship program.
  • The mentors will be selected from graduate students currently enrolled in the Civil Engineering Department.

Project Resources

The only cost associated with this project will be the hiring of graduate student mentors.  The numbers are summarized below.
Select 21 ‘at risk’ students.

Mentors:  21/3 = 7

7 Mentors @10 hours /week for 2 semesters = 7 mentors x $4,000/semester x 2 semesters = $56,000.
Why fund this project when we already have so many support systems?

The University offers a wide range of excellent services to support students.  They are helping students in many ways.  And yet the graduation rate within 6 years remains stubbornly low at only 30%.  Clearly, engineering students face particular challenges.  Are they troubled by the complexity of our programs?  Is the math requirement the real obstacle?  Are we advising our students as well as we should?  We don’t know the answers to these questions.
Once funded, this project will not only likely help a group of students to graduate expeditiously, but it will also inform us.  We will better understand the nature of the poor graduation rates.  This understanding will likely be applicable to other engineering programs.  We have six engineering departments.  The impact on the College of Engineering could be profound.
Project Cost

The cost of the project is $56,000.  The Department of Civil Engineering has support from our generous alumni who are willing to seed the project with $6,000.  This leaves a requirement of $50,000.
Won’t the grad students simply pay lip service and do little?

The graduate students will be trained, tested, and screened.  Their duties will be ordered and almost bureaucratic.   Although their work will have a scholarly element, they will be employed as assistant advisors.  They will be required to meet, measure, and document each of their interactions.
Not all graduate students will be suited to this work, and their selection will be careful.
What are the potential benefits of this project

The benefits of this project are ranked:

  1. We will better understand the reason for our poor graduation rates, thereby being able to adjust our advising methods, even our curricula.
  2. We will make a direct impact on the progress of 21 failing undergraduate students.
  3. Our research enterprise will get a boost.
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