Lisa Valdez

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.”

Future FIG mentors study on Tuesday afternoon. The new course is more intense than previous training but now offers course credit and a more diverse curriculum.

Photo Credit: Zen Ren | Daily Texan Staff

The first-year interest group mentor seminar class that trains new FIG mentors each spring semester now requires more work, but offers course credit to make up for the time increase.

The length of UGS 104 will be increased from five weeks to eight weeks, and will now offer one hour of credit instead of zero, said FIG program coordinator Lisa Valdez. The FIG program is for first semester freshmen, a program that places students into small groups with the purpose of aiding their academic and social transition from high school to college. FIG training occurs only in the spring while the FIG program is carried out only during fall semesters.

With the three additional weeks, Valdez said the future mentors will receive more training on student development theory, group management strategies and cultural awareness. Valdez said there are no additional costs with these changes, as the FIG budget has not grown or decreased.

“We are a university of a lot of people,” Valdez said. “We wanted to make sure we were giving our mentors the tools that they needed in order to facilitate discussion and have their students meet other students who come from a different background.”

Valdez said when the FIG program started there was no Facebook or Twitter and the needs of students have changed since the rise in use of social media. Valdez said students now want to see more study groups and academic-related topics discussed in the FIG.

“At the time FIG started, there was a need for students to have a way to build a social network on campus,” Valdez said. “Students don’t necessarily need that social network built up anymore, they kind of come in with it. As they meet people here on campus, they can easily add the person on Facebook.”

Kyrstal Parsons, public relations and German senior, said the FIG program needs both social and academic resources for students. Parsons, who has been a FIG mentor for two sessions, said the FIG group she mentored in the fall of 2011 did well both academically and socially.

“I think they made better friendships than they might have made if they didn’t do the activities we did,” Parsons said.

Valdez said the additional training mentors will have will include reading assignments about the millennial generation, those born in the late ’80s and early ’90s. These readings will help mentors understand their students and the relationship with the FIG group facilitator, Valdez said. Every FIG group has a facilitator, which is a University staff member who helps in the FIG group.

“We wanted to be able to give students information about a better understanding of themselves and their generation, and then also possibly working with someone like me, who is Generation X, and has a very, kind of different view on the way things work,” Valdez said.

Valdez said she hopes these classes will better empower the FIG mentor.

“If they have a great understanding of who they are and how they learn, the mentors are able to then really teach it to other students,” Valdez said.

Textiles and apparel junior Anne Lawrence said topics about the millennial generation and readings on student development theory makes her feel more qualified to be a FIG mentor.

“I think it exposes you to a more deeper level,” Lawrence said. “I think the class makes you focus on more individual traits.”

Valdez said the changes are permanent and will apply to UGS 104 in future spring semesters.

Printed on Wednesday, February 15, 2012 as:FIG mentors receive credit for training