Peer mentors added to seminars

Mai Hoang

Amber Kiser’s freshman year was less than ideal.

Kiser had a hard time adjusting to being in school. She was homesick. She cried a lot during her first semester at Western.

Now, Kiser, a junior from Ashland City, Tenn., is making sure today’s freshman won’t have to have the same experience.

Kiser is part of Western’s new peer mentor program, which puts older students in a freshmen seminar course to help instructors teach sections of the course and develop relationships with the students in the class.

Richmond junior Robyn Trivette said being a peer mentor is a way to offer advice and help that she received as a freshman.

“When I was a freshman, I had an older sister I turned to,” she said. “I want to be that for them.”

After much debate in the University Senate, its members voted in 2002 to keep the course if it became voluntary. A UC-101 advisory committee was formed to reform the course.

Freshmen seminar coordinator Cindy Jones said this is the first semester that the course, which teaches new students study, critical thinking and library research skills, is voluntary.

But for the 2,200 freshmen who chose to take the course, several new enhancements, such as peer mentors, have been added.

Jim Fulkerson, director of the peer mentor program, said they are present in 25 of the 90 freshman seminar sessions.

Each peer mentor wrote an essay on what they could contribute to the class and had to provide a letter of recommendation from either a faculty member or freshmen seminar instructor.

Each mentor was required to attend a four-day training session and take a three-credit hour course on peer mentoring and leadership this semester. The mentors receive a $200 scholarship.

“It’s been proven that students learn very well from peers,” Fulkerson said.

Katrina Phelps, chair of the UC-101 advisory committee, said the peer mentors may be able to relate better with freshmen than instructors can.

“It will be much more powerful and probably easier to hear than coming from someone in a different generation with a very different life,” she said.

In Wednesday’s class, Kiser had an opportunity to relate to the students. During a getting-to-know you game she led, she had the opportunity to talk about her freshman experience at Western.

“I think it made them more willing to share their experiences at will,” she said. “I hope it gives them more comfort to come and talk to me because I’ve been in their shoes.”

Although it’s the same course, the peer mentors are given a lot of leeway in their interaction with students.

Kiser said she plans on holding activities and going out to lunch or dinner to get to know more about them and their needs.

“I look forward to establishing solid relationships with these students in one way or another,” she said.

Trivette said she is teaming up with another mentor to create a big map of Bowling Green for a scavenger hunt.

She also plans on doing activities that will motivate students to stay in school and to get involved on campus.

Although the program has just started, some are already seeing effects.

“Students are really accepting the peer mentor and realize that they’re there to help as an added resource,” Fulkerson said.

Lewisport freshman Christa Pate, who is in Trivette’s class, said she has enjoyed getting to know her, especially during the get-to-know activity Trivette ran Wednesday.

“She seems really nice,” Pate said. “A lot of times when you hear things from people close to your age, you might follow them more than a teacher or an adult.”

The peer mentor program is only one of several changes to freshmen seminar. Other changes:

• Some freshmen seminar students will be in learning communities where they will take freshmen seminar along with other classes. There are eight such communities.

Academic department have the option of expanding a section of freshman seminar to three credit hours.

One of these course specific sections, is Virginia Pfhol’s freshman seminar for psychology majors, which is three-credit hours. Besides the general freshman seminar course, students in these session will learn about what psychology courses to take and what careers are out there for a psychology major.

• Although some of the basic tenants are still the same – library skills, study skills and critical thinking – it has consolidated some sections to allow more flexibility for instructors.

“I think in general, the course can be more tailored to meet the interest and needs of the students of the class,” Phelps said.

Reach Mai Hoang at [email protected]