UT makes changes to First-year Interest Group program

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First-year Interest Group mentors will now have to find a way to stretch their guaranteed weekly hour with their students into at least five hours a week if they want to get paid the full amount they were initially promised.

UT will now classify FIG mentors as employees of the School of Undergraduates Studies and require the mentors to turn in time sheets for FIG-related work.

Since the program started in 1998, student mentors have earned stipends of $500 disbursed in four payments throughout the semester.

The mentors are now paid $10 per hour for up to 19 hours per week and are paid every two weeks.

They can still earn up to $500 for the entire semester of work, but only two hours of payable work are guaranteed: one hour in which mentors meet with their FIG seminar, and the other in which they spend planning their FIG seminar with their facilitator.

The remaining hours, however, are up to the student mentors to arrange themselves.

Students enrolled in academic FIGs share classes and have weekly seminars that mentors lead with a faculty member.

With residential FIGs, students live together in the on-campus residence hall Whitis Court and also share classes with a weekly seminar, according to the School of Undergraduate Studies.

Residential FIG mentors can earn up to $600.

Lisa Valdez, the FIG program coordinator, said UT changed the pay structure for FIG mentors as part of several changes to the program, not as a reaction to how mentors have managed their groups in the past.

Valdez said the FIG program held a training course for pass/fail credit in the spring for new mentors to prepare them for incoming freshmen who choose to join an interest group.

The mentors will also be able to use information from MAP-Works, a survey filled out by incoming freshmen, to better guide FIG members through their first semester.

Biomedical engineering senior Elle Roensch said she found the preset payment system easier to deal with but does not mind getting paid more often.

“It is also inconvenient to have to go to the FIG office every two weeks when it is on the opposite side of campus from where I usually am,” Roensch said.

Roensch, a returning mentor for an academic FIG, said the two-week payments are more convenient, but being on the school’s payroll includes taxes on her checks that she didn’t have on the stipend.

“The amount of total hours required to complete as a mentor is the same, so the way I handle my FIG and the time commitment is no different,” Roensch said.

Broadcast journalism senior Jasmine Kyles, a first-time mentor for an academic FIG, said the time sheets are motivating her to plan events for her FIG.

“The wages give me more of an incentive to do the job and to have enough hours each week,” Kyles said.

“It’s smart to max out your salary.”

Kyles took the training course preparing her for this semester, because she wanted to give freshmen a better experience than she had.

She will be meeting her group of freshmen Monday for the first time.

“I was in a FIG and mine didn’t go so well,” Kyles said.

“I think I can help improve the program to what the students want. You don’t know how much attention your FIG will demand until you meet them and get to know them.”