Innovating for student success: The University Leadership Network (ULN) and tiered undergraduate peer mentor model


  • Jennifer L. Smith The University of Texas at Austin



Peer mentor, training, underrepresented students


This paper highlights the innovative approach the Student Success Initiative’s unit at the University of Texas at Austin is taking to increase undergraduate persistence and four-year graduation rates. Specifically, this piece explores the large-scale University Leadership Network (ULN) program and examines the tiered undergraduate peer mentor model utilized to support the success of first-year students from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, including a majority of underrepresented minority (URM) students. The article also reviews the critical role peer mentors play in helping to meet institution-wide goals and how they extend the reach of student support programs. Lastly, best practices, challenges, and components necessary for program replication will be presented.

Author Biography

Jennifer L. Smith, The University of Texas at Austin

Jennifer Smith serves as the Director of the University Leadership Network (ULN) at The University of Texas at Austin. As part of the university’s Student Success Initiatives (SSI) unit, ULN was created to increase four-year graduation rates. She was appointed to provide a unique student experience based on leadership, professional development, and experiential learning combined with the opportunity to earn a significant scholarship. Jennifer was instrumental in the development and implementation of a number student success initiatives at UT Austin, including the University Leadership Network, the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan Mentor Academy, and the College of Natural Sciences Peer Leader Academy. Dr. Smith received both her Master of Educational Administration and Doctor of Educational Administration from the University of Texas at Austin. Jennifer’s research and practice center on leadership, incentive-based scholarships, undergraduate peer mentoring, and the experiences of underrepresented undergraduate populations.


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