New program pairs freshmen with faculty mentors

UW-L Freshman Jack Flinchum sitting in chair while faculty mentor Attila Kovacs hooks up a measuring device to his arm.

UW-L Freshman Jack Flinchum performs an isometric force production task in the lab through a partnership with his faculty mentor Attila Kovacs through the Eagle Apprenticeship Program. When Finchum squeezed the handle, a red line went up on the computer screen indicating how much force he was exerting.


A program starting on campus this fall will help freshmen build strong relationships with faculty, gain experience in their career field and earn money to pay for college.

UW-La Crosse will launch the Eagle Apprenticeship program this fall with a pilot of four incoming, freshmen. The program pairs the freshmen with faculty mentors who provide them research or other assistantship experience for two to three hours each week over the course of two years. Work is often related to a student’s career goals. Freshmen will receive a $1,000 award for the year, and, as sophomores, they will receive $2,000.

“I was looking forward to getting involved here, but I wasn’t sure in what way,” says UW-L incoming freshman Jack Flinchum.

Incoming student Ashley Handley says she was excited to join the Eagle Apprenticeship program. “This seems like a good way to meet a professor from your major and other students,” she says. “They could help you if you are having trouble in a class or need a reference.”

image of freshman Ashley Handley

Freshman Ashley Handley

Those connections can come in handy — especially in the job search, adds Flinchum. “It’s all about who you know.”

UW-L will also benefit as the program helps the university attract and retain the best and brightest freshmen by offering financial assistance and mentoring their first year, explains Scott Cooper, UW-L’s director of undergraduate research.

“A good predictor of student retention is developing a meaningful relationship with a faculty member outside of the classroom,” he notes.

The program also grooms these top students for undergraduate research, internships, scholarships and fellowships in their junior and senior years. Such hands-on research and mentoring experience is uncommon at many universities early in college, notes Cooper.

The plan is to expand the program to 25 freshmen in fall 2014.

In fall 2015 these students would continue in their second year as an apprentice and 25 new freshmen would become first year apprentices. Once the program is full strength in 2015, awards for students will total $75,000.

The UW-L Admissions Office is already using the program as a recruiting tool and is excited to continue to highlight the program — “another example of students having fantastic experiences and developing meaningful relationships at UW-L,” says Corey Sjoquist, UW-L director of Admissions.

Students are selected by the Admissions Office before they agree to attend UW-L and matches are made with mentors over summer.

“We hope that this project will provide a meaningful first-year experience for some of our best and brightest freshmen, and will also help our faculty manage their work loads,” says Cooper.

Funds to support the program will be administered by UW-L’s Financial Aid Office and are targeted specifically at recruitment and retention.