Posted by Jesse Shayne
With the Spring semester already halfway over, the staff behind the First Year Experience Program has begun thinking ahead to next Fall. Though it will not be long before the incoming class of 2015 will be choosing their Scribner Seminars, each seminar first needs to have a peer mentor assigned to it and the process by which that takes place can be complicated.
There are two ways to become a peer mentor.
Students can either find a professor who needs a peer mentor for his or her class or they can go through the application process to try to get matched up with a professor. No paperwork is required if students find professors in need of mentors on their own.
However, if students hope to get matched up to a Scribner Seminar, they need applications stating why they are good candidates, a teacher recommendation and a brief interview with a member of the FYE staff to figure out which seminars would be the right fit.
Most faculty members choose to pick their own peer mentors but there are always a few who decide to get matched up by the FYE.
"We always have about eight to 10 seminars where the faculty member just says ‘give me somebody,'" said Beau Breslin, director of FYE and professor of Government.
Once a peer mentor becomes assigned to a Scribner Seminar the FYE runs an integrity check on the candidate.
As long as students have decent grades and no serious citations on their records, they are eligible.
The responsibilities begin after all of the seminars have been assigned peer mentors.
Over the summer peer mentors are supposed to get in touch with their mentees and start to get to know them. They should be able to answer any questions that the incoming students may have.
Peer mentors head back to campus about eight days before first-year orientation begins for an orientation of their own.
During this time they are taught how to have conversations about important issues and how to teach mentees about college resources.
"The discussions range from knowing academic services on campus, the alcohol and drug policy, sexual misconduct, academic integrity, citizenship and diversity," Breslin said.
During first-year orientation peer mentors have a big role in leading the newcomers around campus and helping them adjust to their new surroundings.
Peer mentors also plan icebreaking group activities, organize group meals and keep first-year students on schedule.
When the semester begins the peer mentors' role is not quite as intricate as during orientation, but it is still important.
Peer mentors are to attend their Scribner Seminar classes and do the readings while also taking a separate class in how to lead discussions. The class, ID-201, meets once a week for about an hour.
Peer mentors should also be willing to meet with their mentees to talk about any problems they might be having.
Given the responsibilities that come with being a peer mentor, not everyone is suited for the job.
"Broadly a peer mentor has two responsibilities: to model the type of behavior we expect from our very best students academically and socially, and to help the faculty member by working with the first-year students to make the transition as seamless as possible," Breslin said.
Being a peer mentor gets you more than just self-satisfaction. Peer mentors get paid for the time they spend with their students outside of class, including $250 for orientation.
They also receive academic credit. Mentors get one credit for the ID-201 course and two or three credits for the seminar depending on whether they choose to do additional readings for the faculty advisor.
Peer mentors can also live in a single for the price of a double and have the option of living in the same residential hall as their mentees.
It is not all about the pay though. While the peer mentors have a great influence on their mentees, one peer mentor in particular found himself learning just as much from his first-years.
"I definitely took on a different role and tried to act as an older brother figure...I became really close with my students," said Dave Schlenker ‘13, a peer mentor of Africa Through Changing Cinema this past fall.
Peer mentors have an important role in helping first-year students to get accustomed to college.