First years begin new Compass Mentoring Program

By William Reed and Ben Wagner

Shirley Mao
A 2019 report entitled “How Will We Live Together” recommended an overhaul of the first-year residential experience.

This fall, the class of 2025 will be the first to participate in the Compass Mentorship Program, which pairs students with a non-academic staff member at Middlebury who serves as an additional resource and mentor for the next four years. 

Following the dissolution of Middlebury’s 30-year-old commons system in the fall of 2020, ResLife — in partnership with other support systems at the college — sought to implement new mentorship systems for first years. 

First Year Seminar professors serve as students’ academic advisors until they declare a major, often remaining their advisor  for more than a year. Compass mentors are supposed to supplement the work of academic advisers during students’ first year at Middlebury and remain a point of contact for students seeking resources or advice throughout their undergraduate careers. 

The commons system, first envisioned in 1998, split first years into five commons, within which they shared a dean, a first- and second-year residence and ResLife programming. A 2019 report entitled “How Will We Live Together” recommended the dissolution of the commons system and an overhaul of residential learning experiences at the college. 

“It didn’t mean much to me other than the fact I got to say, ‘I’m in Ross, which one are you in?’” Finn Wimberly ’23.5 said about the former commons system. 

Kristy Carpenter, associate director of Residential Life, worked on the Compass development team to design and implement the new program this fall. 

“This program and its early iterations have been in the works for a while now but really gained traction last year,” Carpenter said in an email to The Campus. “The Compass team came together virtually to work collaboratively across departments to reimagine a way for students to more easily access and intentionally engage with everything Middlebury has to offer.”

Esther Palmer, the Annual Giving coordinator at Middlebury and current Compass mentor, said her experience in the program so far has been “a human being to a human being relationship.”

“There’s no office attachment to it, there’s no specific outcome attached to it in the sense that your academic advisor is trying to help you navigate picking a major or picking your courses,” Palmer said.

Palmer noted that the program has no strict structure; it evolves as mentors and students — and their relationships — do. 

“It could be that it’s intentional . . .keeping it very kind of open ended and to figure out what works best for the people you’re working with,” Palmer said.

“Right now, I feel like I can much more easily reach out to my compass mentor than my first year seminar professor,” Dan Urchuck ’25 said. 

Alex Scott-Hansen ’25 initially expressed confusion when asked about the Compass Mentorship Program and was not familiar with the program’s name, but after connecting the program with the mentor he already knows, said that he and his mentor had gone for an hour-long walk last week discussing campus life. 

“It was a lot more about my social life, the kinds of things I’ve been up to. All my professor cared about was academics, but my Compass mentor asked me about my friends and what my future plans are,” Scott-Hansen said.

Other first years expressed their confusion with the mentorship program and how it fits with their other post-orientation obligations. 

The Compass Mentorship program is part of the college’s efforts to encourage first years to engage with the campus community. As part of the first year seminar program this fall, all first years are required to attend at least two program events. Many chose to attend the Clifford Symposium, which took place from Sept. 23–25, to fulfill one of the requirements. 

In the spring of 2021, the Compass Team reached out to administrative staff seeking volunteers to be mentors. 

While the program has officially kicked-off, it will continue developing for the next several semesters. After a year of a ResLife structure in transition, this year’s freshman class will be the first to have the Compass Program impact all four years of their college experience.