Reflecting on a semester of teaching and advising student peer-mentors, Jillian Anderson and Matthew Kelly hope the first-year students the program serves became more engaged in their learning and are better prepared for their future semesters at WSU.
Anderson, coordinator of Judicial Affairs, became an advisor for the peer-mentor program for the first time this year to help positively influence student learning and “get involved with the students in a leadership role.” Kelly, a counselor in Counseling Services, was involved with the program last year, supervising two student mentors in a fourth-hour class. He said he signed up again because he enjoyed getting to know the students in his class and connecting with them in a different way. Both collaborate with Economics Professor Bonnie Orcutt, Ph.D.
Each teaches a class of mentors, twice a week, touching on various topics and leading discussions. They relay information and skills to the mentors that the mentors turn around and use in their fourth-hour classes with first-year students. These are one-hour class modules in which two peer-mentors co-facilitate presentations and discussions with about 40 students under the guidance of a faculty or staff advisor. More than 750 first-year students are involved in the program this semester.
“We tried our best to build on the earlier foundation because everything last year was brand new,” Kelly said. “A lot of hard work went into designing it. This year we wanted to build upon that and make the program more predictable. A more engaging class with the mentors was our goal as well.”
Anderson added, “We used the foundation and look of the program last year to build this year’s program overall.”
One of the most noticeable changes was the introduction of a new common reading initiative. To support the theme semester, Worcester in the World, first-year students and peer-mentors read “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man” by John Perkins. The first-year students analyzed the book in fourth-hour classroom discussions led by peer-mentors. They were also required to attend Perkins’ lecture in October.
Among the program’s behind-the-scene changes are an expansion from one class a week to two and mentors now earning four credits instead of three. In addition, mentor training, applicant interviews and stipends for returning peer-mentors were introduced. Kelly and Anderson are also conducting more assessments of the peer-mentors.
The peer-mentor program has affected the first-year students in a very positive way. “The biggest benefit the first-year students have with the program is making the connection with their mentors,” Kelly said. “I do think that the workshops and lectures have a lot of value with their connection to WSU, but I think the relationship with the mentors is more important because it helps them really connect with the school. Students who get involved in their first year at school tend to do better in their classes and stay in school till graduation.”
Anderson agreed. “That role is definitely important, and gaining knowledge and tips from fellow students is crucial,” she said. “Faculty members can’t always share certain information, while mentors have been there and done everything that the first-year students are encountering on a daily basis.”
Anderson said she now has a better appreciation of “how much effort and time has been put into the program.” Kelly believes that the program has given him a better understanding of the development needs of first-year students. “It’s a tough job to get 750 first-year students off on the best foot possible,” he noted. He believes that the peer-mentors and first-year students have taught him a lot and he has grown from this knowledge.
Written by Chelsea Tougas, a communication major, president of WSU’s Omega Psi chapter of Lambda Pi Eta, student worker in the Student Affairs Office, and intern with the WSU Public Relations and Marketing Office. This is the second year she has been a peer-mentor.
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