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The Match Game: First Generation Undergraduates and Retired Faculty Pair Up in a Unique Mentoring Program at
UC San Diego

May 24, 2011

By Kristin Luciani

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John Wheeler, professor emeritus of chemistry

John Wheeler joined the faculty of the chemistry department at the University of California, San Diego in 1969, just nine years after the university was founded. Since retiring in 2005, Wheeler has found a new way to support students through their undergraduate education: the UC San Diego Emeriti Mentoring Program. Wheeler, along with 33 other emeritus faculty members, volunteers his time to mentor first generation college students and help guide them through the university experience. 

As a young university established just 50 years ago, many of the faculty members from UC San Diego’s early years are still actively involved with the campus. During this 50th Anniversary year, UC San Diego celebrates the visionary leadership and continuous support of its emeriti faculty.

“UC San Diego’s Emeriti Association is truly unique among the nation’s universities, and I believe it’s because UCSD was founded with such a stellar group of faculty,” said Wheeler, who currently co-chairs the UC San Diego Emeriti Mentoring Program. “The university is very supportive in keeping its emeriti faculty members engaged. And in turn, the emeriti have been very supportive of the campus. ”

The Emeriti Mentoring Program was established in 2005, the brainchild of Mel Green, emeritus professor of biology, to provide guidance to undergraduate students in the Chancellor’s Scholars Program. These students are high-achieving first generation and low-income students who often do not have someone at home with a core set of college experiences. Faculty mentors are matched one-on-one with first and second year undergraduates based on the students’ interests and goals. The mentors are able to assist students with questions about classes, grades and graduate school, as well as help students identify opportunities for scholarships, undergraduate research and internships.  

Lila Gitesatani, second year history major

“The mentoring program has been an enormous help,” said Lila Gitesatani, a second year student majoring in history. “I’m a commuter student so I don’t know too many people on campus, and I’m a first generation college student, so I don’t have many people around who can guide me through college. It is so helpful to have a faculty member to turn to for guidance and advice.”

The program currently has 34 active emeriti faculty mentors and 39 student mentees. Since its founding, more than 80 students have participated in the program. Unique among universities nationwide, the UCSD Emeriti Mentoring Program is currently serving as a model for other California universities, including UC Berkeley and UCLA. 

“Part of what makes this program unique is that it connects senior faculty members with first and second year undergraduates,” said Jack Fisher, emeritus professor of surgery and past president of the UCSD Emeriti Association. “Often faculty will interact one-on-one with graduate students, but it is uncommon to have that level of interaction with freshmen and sophomore undergraduates.”

The program also creates a tight-knit and supportive community for both students and mentors. Students get to know fellow undergraduates in the Chancellor’s Scholars Program, fostering a supportive peer network. The faculty mentors meet monthly to share their experiences and mentoring strategies.

“Being in this program has really made UCSD feel smaller,” added Gitesatani. “At the same time it has exposed me to many more opportunities available at the university.”

In addition to giving their time, the UCSD Emeriti Association members donate to the scholarship program and are annual sponsors of the Chancellor’s Challenge 5K Run/Walk for Scholars (http://5k.ucsd.edu). Since 1996, this annual fundraiser for undergraduate scholarships has raised $2.5 million, benefiting 835 students.

To learn more about the UCSD Emeriti Association and the Emeriti Mentoring Program, visit http://emeriti.ucsd.edu. The mentoring program is currently looking for additional faculty mentors. Emeriti faculty interested in volunteering can contact (858) 534-4724 or EmeritiMentor@ucsd.edu.  


Media Contact: Kristin Luciani, 858-822-3353, kluciani@ucsd.edu

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