Peer Mentors, Counselors Help Ease Transition to College Life
Transitioning to college can be tough for anyone, and international, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students may face additional challenges. Recognizing the possible need for extra support in taking this step into higher education, Hamilton created the Multicultural Peer Mentoring Project (MP²). Peer Mentors offer these students more assistance based on their own experiences making the same transition.
Several programs support students in their academic work. The Writing Center helps students strengthen their writing abilities through peer review conferences. Students can bring their papers to (faculty-nominated) tutors, who give feedback on strengths and weaknesses, and help devise a plan for revision.
The Quantitative & Symbolic Reasoning Center offers peer tutoring for students in introductory level courses containing a mathematics or quantitative component. The Oral Communication Center supports students in achieving Hamilton’s standard for effective oral communication.
English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) is a multi-disciplinary program incorporating instruction in written and spoken Standard English for multilingual students. The ESOL program offers individual and small-group tutoring, independent study and informal conversation tables.
Peer tutors provide coaching and advice on any stage of the presentation process, helping students develop effective strategies. In addition, the Career Center facilitates students’ successes beyond Hamilton: peer advisors help write and critique resumes and cover letters, and offer advice on networking, searching for career-related experiences, and preparing for interviews.
First-year students in particular find these student-run programs helpful. Transitioning to college can be tough for anyone, and these peer tutoring programs help smooth the transition. Hamilton recognizes that international, first-generation, and historically underrepresented students may face additional challenges, however. The Multicultural Peer Mentoring Project, or MP², was started therefore to support first-year students in their transition to Hamilton by facilitating relationships with experienced student mentors.
MP² mentors are sophomores, juniors or seniors who demonstrate good interpersonal and communication skills, demonstrate leadership and are dedicated to helping their peers succeed. They are often one of the first people that first-year students meet when they come to Hamilton and are very important as a resource for new students to learn about the Hamilton College community, classes, student life and other programs. “I think that peer mentors can be really helpful in helping new students adjust to Hamilton because the mentor-mentee relationship provides another connection for new students upon their arrival to campus. Peer mentors can provide that extra support outside of the student’s social network, and I think this is incredibly helpful to have, especially in the beginning,” says mentor Hannah Tessler ’14.
“I signed up for the program because I remember what it was like to be a freshman international student, and how difficult everything was,” says mentor Anna Yakabe ’13, “so I wanted to help other students experience a smoother adjustment. Leaving for college is difficult for everyone, but not having someone to ask for advice can be very scary.”
In addition to helping first years figure out the logistics of their first year of college, emotional support and friendship are integral aspects of MP². “I was anxious about how I would handle the great cultural differences between USA and Bulgaria,” says Tina Mangelova ’16. “I thought that if I could share and seek advice from somebody who had gone through the same experience my integration in the American society would be easier. Indeed, knowing that there is at least one person who understands the complete mess that was going in my head the first months, knowing I can talk to Anna made me feel supported and understood.”
This relationship extends past the first few weeks of school. Mentors develop and maintain relationships with their mentees throughout their entire first years. Some pairs meet regularly, while other mentors serve more as a sense of security, as mentees know they can go to them if they ever need anything. “I think a peer mentor is a friend, a casual counselor, a facilitator and an older sibling all in one,” says mentor Kate Nguyen ’15, “which is pretty unique. In my opinion, having a peer mentor definitely helps the mentees find their own niche in school and feel comfortable and at home in their new environment.” Nguyen was a mentee her first year and decided to get involved as a mentor because she found the experience to be very enriching and wanted to help with the program’s growth.
Tsion Tesfaye ’16 says that, as an international student, having a mentor was extremely helpful in her transition. “Kate is exactly, if not more, what I expected from a mentor. She invites me out to follow up on how I am doing or she stops by to have a quick catch-up on things. She is such a big sister!”
MP² has been a huge success so far. Hamilton looks forward to continuing to strengthen the program and to helping support all students during their four years on the Hill.