For first-year students, life at a new school can be confusing and difficult at times. They may not know what to do, but luckily for them, if McDaniel were a smartphone, there’d be an app for that. All first-year students at McDaniel College are connected with a peer mentor, including incoming freshman, transfer students, and international students. There are even peer mentors for the Honors Program.
The peer mentor’s job is to help first-year students have the best possible year by offering support on many aspects of campus life. One transfer-student mentor, senior Catherine O’Keefe, says that “peer mentors act as another, perhaps more approachable resource for first-year students.”
Not only do they know about the life at McDaniel, they can also offer assistance or point the students to the right place to find information. Hanna Martin, Senior World Music Survey peer mentor, has her own goal to “give [her] mentees the tools and support to become successful, thoughtful, and independent college students.”
Peer mentors go through rigorous, but fun, training before most first-year students arrive. Training consists of building connections with other peer mentors and learning how to support mentees personally or guiding mentees to the proper support system on campus. They are trained to become good listeners, good role models, and people ready to make the process of orienting to a new school fun and exciting.
So who do the peer mentors learn these things from? The Peer Mentor Advisory Board consists of students acting as a link between the other peer mentors, and Dean Violanti, “the champion of positive attitudes” according to Martin. They arrive first and make sure that the final preparations are complete for training.
They “act primarily as a link between Dean Violanti and the Peer Mentor Teams,” said junior Matt Love. In a way they are the peer mentors for the peer mentors as they offer support during training and throughout the year.
After training, peer mentors take part in first-year student orientation, which is full of programs and activities that help first-year students get acquainted with life at McDaniel. For peer mentors Martin and Kristine Harjes, their favorite part of orientation is the first hour spent with their mentees, where they build connections, play games, and get an idea of what classes will be like.
Instead of standard first hour during orientation, the Transfer Peer Mentors host a “Meet Your Transfer Peer Mentors Night” full of games and ice breakers with the new students.
This is their “first chance to really meet [new students] and forge a connection. It usually ends up being really fun,” said O’Keefe.
So why become a peer mentor? Some, like Martin, started because of the wonderful support of their own peer mentor their first year. She describes it as being “incredibly rewarding to know that you helped someone…and it’s a great way to meet people that maybe [she] never would have met on campus.”
Others such as O’Keefe started because they enjoy working with new students and helping them feel comfortable along with the other peer mentors.
Being a mentor also allows for leadership experience on campus in a way that emphasizes the importance of helping others adapt to this new place, something which drew in Harjes.
After all, being a peer mentor comes with the rewards of hearing that your mentees are doing well, seeing them succeed in whatever they want, meeting so many people, and knowing that you made a difference, especially when they come back and tell you that later.
Peer mentors can also experience the excitement of teaching flex hours for their mentees and take a more active role. Every year is always different, especially if you are a mentor for multiple years such as Martin, Harjes, and others.
Anyone interested in becoming a peer mentor should keep an eye out for an email sent out either at the end of Fall Semester or the beginning of Spring Semester that will announce a meeting for all who are interested. Make sure to ask any professor who will be running an FYS as soon as possible if you are interested as they choose their own mentors.
From the peer mentors to the class of 2016: They can’t wait to meet you, bring your energy and enthusiasm, they wish you all the best, make the most of your time here as it will definitely fly by, and get ready to have the time of your life!