Case Study: UC Irvine Tackles Student Attrition With Peer Mentorship

Explore how the University of California, Irvine, improved student retention with Firstly's software, simplifying mentorship program management and enhancing student experiences. Discover the impact of data-driven matching and streamlined communication on underrepresented minority retention rates.
February 9, 2024


University of California, Irvine (UCI), faced a critical challenge: high student attrition rates. Over the last 5 years, UCI’s School of Biological Sciences observed a 15% difference in retention between students from underrepresented minorities (URM) and their non-URM peers. These outcomes called for an effective, and inclusive, student retention strategy.

To address this, UCI partnered with Firstly, an impact-driven software platform that simplifies program administration to maximize impact. This case study showcases how Firstly's solution not only enhances student experiences but also offers a scalable model for other departments within UCI and beyond.

The Challenge: High Attrition and a Need for Effective Mentorship

UCI's School of Biological Sciences noted a concerning trend in student retention. UCI’s Promoting Inclusion in the Student Experience (PROMISE) task force highlighted a need for more student mentoring in order to improve overall retention in the major.

Peer mentorship programs have long been recognized as a powerful tool in improving student outcomes. By pairing newer students with experienced peers, these programs create supportive learning environments that can significantly reduce feelings of isolation and enhance academic success.

The need for a robust peer mentorship program was clear, but the complexity of managing such a program, especially with reduced staffing, was daunting. The challenge was to implement a solution that could be adapted across various departments with diverse needs.

Firstly's Impact: A Case of Simplified Excellence

In response to the challenges faced by UC Irvine’s School of Biological Sciences, Firstly partnered with the institution to launch a peer mentorship program using their program management software.

Key Features of Firstly's Solution

  • Data-Driven Matching: Firstly's matching algorithm utilized over 1,500 data points from student profiles to facilitate personalized mentor-mentee pairings. This approach ensured compatibility based on academic interests, personal experiences, and individual preferences, significantly enhancing the mentorship experience.
  • Data Dashboard: The platform featured an intuitive dashboard that allowed program administrators to efficiently manage and monitor the mentorship program. This tool was especially crucial in the context of UCI's reduced staffing, as it streamlined administrative tasks and provided real-time insights into program engagement and effectiveness.
  • SMS Communication: Recognizing the importance of accessible and immediate communication, Firstly incorporated an SMS feature to facilitate seamless interaction between mentors and mentees. This approach catered to the communication preferences of the modern student body, ensuring higher engagement rates.

Tailored Implementation Strategy for UC Irvine

  • Customizable Program Design: The platform was configured to allow flexibility in mentorship structures, including both self-paced modules and peer-to-peer activities.
  • Ongoing Evaluation and Adaptation: Throughout the implementation, Firstly maintained an active feedback loop with UC Irvine. This approach enabled continuous refinement of the program, ensuring that it remained responsive to the evolving needs of students and staff alike.
  • Scalability: The adaptable structure of the platform meant that the mentorship program could be expanded to accommodate more students and departments without sacrificing quality or increasing administrative burden.

Results: A Blueprint for Campus-Wide Success

Program Outcomes

  • Student Engagement: 73% of students completed a majority of the program’s requirements, indicating that most of the cohort was engaged during this pilot program.
  • Student Experiences: Mentees and mentors provided positive feedback on the ease of communication and the relevance of their matches, contributing to a more connected and supportive community.
  • Student Retention: To complement student narratives that have been collected, Firstly will measure the retention of the student cohort over the next academic year, collecting longitudinal data to demonstrate the program’s efficacy.

Success Factors

  • Tailored Matching Process: The process considered a wide range of data points and ensured highly compatible mentor-mentee pairings, which was pivotal in enhancing the mentorship experience.
  • Ease of Use and Efficiency: The user-friendly nature of the Firstly platform and its efficient management tools reduced the administrative workload and created capacity for staff.
  • Communication Effectiveness: The integration of SMS communication was particularly well-received, resonating with the students' preferences and leading to higher engagement rates.

Future Implications and Scalability

  • Adaptability Across Departments: The program’s flexibility and the platform’s customizable features indicate strong potential for adaptation to different departmental needs within UC Irvine and other universities.
  • Scalable Model for Broader Implementation: The efficiency and effectiveness of Firstly’s solution demonstrate its capability to be scaled up for larger student populations, suggesting its applicability to larger segments of the higher education sector.

Building on the success and insights from the initial implementation, plans are already underway to launch a comprehensive Peer Mentor Training Program in the upcoming winter, in preparation for the next iteration of the Peer Mentorship Program in the spring quarter.

Success Stories: Voices from UCI

  • “The reassurance I've gained compared to the beginning of the year where I felt lost has changed my outlook being here, and I feel like I can approach any class with a leveled perspective of a positive outlook without giving up.” - Melissa, Mentee
  • “The thing that sets firstly apart is that everything is organized in one place and it is super easy to access everything and see the due date.” - Waqas, Mentee
  • “My mental health was among its lowest during this [quarter]. The new perspective that [my mentor] helped me build has really changed the way I go about my day and my college experience. Without it, I would not have made progress [on] the challenges that I was facing.” - Anonymous Sophomore, Mentee

Conclusion: The Power of Partnership

The partnership between Firstly and UC Irvine demonstrates how technology can enable educational institutions to adapt to changing student needs and focus on strategic student support. By simplifying programs to maximize impact, Firstly not only enhances student experiences at UCI but also paves the way for other institutions to follow suit.

We invite other departments within UCI and educational institutions looking to revolutionize their student support services to explore the potential of partnering with Firstly to launch programs that cultivate student success.

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Case Study: UC Irvine Tackles Student Attrition With Peer Mentorship

February 9, 2024