Implementation of a Technology-Enhanced Peer Mentor Referral System for First-Year University Students

Werntz et al. / Journal of Technology in Behavioral Science / February 2023

Two female students, one of whom is wearing a hijab, sit outside and work on a laptop

COVID-19 forced college administrators to reassess how they provide students with the most effective methods of support. This project examined the first year of a novel digital peer mentoring program with the goal of connecting diverse students to campus resources they needed to navigate the transition to and through their first year of college. MentorHub, a referral and supportive accountability mobile application, was implemented with first-year undergraduates at a large, private university in the northeastern region of the USA. MentorHub tracked students’ current challenges and connected them with trained peer mentors who provided students with support and referrals to campus resources (e.g., mental health, financial, academic). Analyses were not hypothesis-driven, but instead were exploratory and intended for improving the platform. In the first year of the program (August 2021 to June 2022), 47% (N = 3141) students logged onto the platform at least once. Patterns of self-reported challenges revealed that career concerns were the most challenging at the beginning of the fall semester, and that academic habits were most challenging over the course of the year. Referrals (N = 756) were made by mentors, 13% of which were for health and well-being. First-generation and underrepresented minority students showed distinct patterns in referrals. Findings revealed distinct patterns in self-reported challenges across the academic year. Students’ use of MentorHub and responses to in-app questions allowed for a real-time understanding of student challenges and patterns of engagement with peer mentors. Implications for a stepped-care approach to addressing student challenges are discussed.