A room of students sitting at tables; two students in foreground in discussion with a faculty member

BIPOC and First-Generation Mentoring Program Demonstrates Success

July 18, 2023

Mentorship for BIPOC and first-generation public health graduate students can improve their experiences and satisfaction and, ultimately, may help them meet their educational and professional goals. This conclusion is based on an analysis of graduate student surveys at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, specifically, those participating in the Mentoring of Students and Igniting Community (MOSAIC) program, a unique faculty-led graduate student mentorship program.

The study by researchers at Columbia Mailman is the first to evaluate the effects of a graduate-level mentorship program on the well-being of first-generation and BIPOC students at a school or program of public health. Results are published in the journal Public Health Reports.

Established in 2019, MOSAIC uses a group mentorship model with faculty mentors who offer support in navigating and succeeding in academic life, with special attention to graduate students’ ongoing projects and challenges, as well as advice on professional development. MOSAIC also fosters community through group activities and leadership and career development workshops, including those led by alumni. Unique features include the involvement of faculty, staff, and alumni; its flexibility to meet changing student needs; and an approach that foregrounds the fight against oppression and racism, at the personal, institutional, and systemic levels. Since the program launched, 518 students have participated in the program.

The new study finds that participation in MOSAIC was associated with an overall positive experience for participating graduate students and on average a 25 percent increase in their overall experience in public health graduate school and a 28 percent difference in quality of life.

Most of the graduate students who joined the MOSAIC program did so because of opportunities to connect to BIPOC and first-generation students, faculty mentorship, community building, and professional development, and these opportunities had a positive effect on student well-being.

“Fostering a sense of belonging is especially critical for BIPOC and first-generation students,” says first author and co-founder of MOSAIC Stephanie Grilo, PhD, assistant professor of population and family health. “As this study shows, mentorship of BIPOC graduate students and first-generation students is associated not only with increased experiences and satisfaction but also with an increase in overall quality of life.”

“The effects of MOSAIC may be transformative by helping participating students advance in their public health careers, which ultimately can strengthen the public health workforce and rectify health disparities,” adds senior author and co-founder of MOSAIC Goleen Samari, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of population and family health. “We believe MOSAIC can serve as a model for other institutions to implement similar programs.”

Study co-authors are Monét Bryant, Samantha Garbers, and Maggie Wiggin—all at Columbia Mailman.

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

MOSAIC is one part of a larger Columbia Mailman FORWARD (Fighting Oppression, Racism and White Supremacy through Action, Research and Discourse) initiative whose goals include building: an anti-racist institutional culture and environment; a strong pipeline of BIPOC students and then into the field of public health beyond the School; new cohorts of BIPOC faculty and staff who are fully supported and have the resources needed to launch their careers; a broad program of authentic, active and ongoing engagements with local, marginalized communities; a more robust school-wide health equities, systemic racism, and structural violence research effort. Alongside MOSAIC, BIPOC students can also take part in the R.I.S.E. (Resilience, Inclusion, Solidarity, and Empowerment) a peer mentorship program.