OUTLOOK: A Closer Look— Alumni Bar Mentoring Program

Q&A with Joni Wiredu, Director of Academic Excellence

By Franki Fitterer

As Bar Prep Services Increase at AUWCL, New Program to Add More Alumni Involvement

Recognizing the need for increased bar prep services, Dean Camille Nelson and the administration at American University Washington College of Law have made significant strides over the past 18 months, adding staff, creating new bar-focused courses for 2Ls and 3Ls in partnership with BARBRI, and increasing summer bar prep support for graduates that included a full two-day mock bar exam.

Joni Wiredu
Joni Wiredu

When The Advocate asked Joni Wiredu, director of the Office of Academic Excellence, what aspect of her work should be featured in the magazine, her answer was clear – the inaugural alumni bar exam mentoring program. The new program L.I.F.T. (Lead. Inform. Foster. Transform.) aims to pair outgoing students with recent alumni – ideally from the last 10 years – for remote and in-person alumni mentoring and encouragement through the arduous process of applying and sitting for the bar exam.

We sat down with Joni to ask how readers of The Advocate could get involved and help out our February and July 2019 bar takers.

The Advocate: What was the catalyst in wanting to start an alumni mentoring Program?

Joni Wiredu: When I first arrived at the law school, I had a great introductory meeting with now former chair of the Dean’s Advisory Council member Ken Lore. After speaking with him, it was clear that the law school’s alumni are concerned about recent bar passage rates and want to be able to assist. Ken helped confirm what I already knew – there are so many alumni who have a love of AUWCL and are happy to make themselves available to help students succeed.

I have found that having mentors or coaches during bar prep helps keep students accountable, and – if nothing else – it lets them know that there is a specific person looking out for their interests.

Knowing that alumni were interested in being mentors, and students want and need the support, the decision to create a mentorship program geared toward supporting graduates during the bar exam period was an easy one.

Q: How would you describe the specific mentoring aspects of the program?

A: Through this program, we really want the engagement to be supportive and motivational. It can also be informative in terms of the process of applying to the bar, but it really is designed more to be encouraging for students. The hope is that as students study, they will receive periodic check-ins from their mentors, just to see how they are doing. The check-ins will also help us identify students who may be struggling. As mentors build relationships with their mentees, we have an extra set of eyes to help our team reach students who may experience challenges, which we do not have the capacity to capture. We want all of the community to feel part of this effort and to feel that the law school is doing everything we can to support our graduates during this important time in their career.

Q: In terms of mentors and mentees, what age range of alumni are you looking for and what years of students will they mentor?

A: Because there have been so many recent changes in the bar, this program is aimed at alumni who have taken the bar within the past 5-7 years. We are targeting the program toward graduating students starting with this fall’s upcoming December graduates. With the combination of our efforts and the alumni mentors, our hope is to provide individual support to nearly every student who wants to take a bar.

Q: Is the idea to pair students with alumni who took the same bar?

A: Absolutely. Even with the Uniform Bar Exam (UBE) there are logistical things, like advice on where to stay the night before the bar and how to complete the application process, that are specific to each state exam. Part of the training for mentors will focus on what types of information will help bar takers. Ideally, we would also match students with alumni in their same desired practice areas, but we realize that won’t always be possible.

Q: If alumni graduated more than 10 years ago, can they still do something to assist in this effort?

A: Supporting academic and bar exam success requires financial resources. Alumni interested in assisting in this effort can consider donating to the Office of Academic Excellence through the Office of Development and Alumni Relations annual giving campaign.

Q: You’ve been at the law school for 18 months, and, as we noted, have launched a number of new programs. What types of feedback are you hearing from the students?

A: The feedback about our office and its efforts has been very positive. We have a lot of students who appreciate the office presence and it seems like the word is spreading. We’ve had lots of students come to our office after being referred by a friend or told by a classmate, “you’ve got to talk to the folks in the Office of Academic Excellence, they can help you out with that.” It’s great to hear feedback like that, and it definitely fills our calendar!