Peer Mentors Help Fellow Students Succeed

Helping new students adjust to college is the mission of the peer mentors at Ashland Community and Technical College.

Essentially, we are the cheering squad for new students, says peer mentor Donna McClave, an ACTC graduate from Flatwoods. Peer Mentors are a team of dedicated students helping fellow students to be successful in their academic and career goals.

The first year of college is hard for many people because the environment is different from high school and the workplace. There are new procedures to follow, processes to learn, academic skills to sharpen and a new culture to adjust to.

Peer mentors help beginning students adapt to college life by providing information on available services, answering questions about the ins and outs of college and offering a friendly ear and encouraging word when needed.

Peer mentoring began at ACTC in fall semester 2009 as a program funded by the Title III Grant Closing the Education Gap in Appalachian Kentucky. The grant focus is on developing services to improve retention of students who have a high risk of dropping out.

Through peer mentoring, first generation college students, returning adult learners and other at-risk students receive extra one-on-one support that can help them succeed in college.

This was my first time back to higher education after failing miserably 10 years ago, said a student who received peer mentoring last year. I was somewhat nervous, and meeting someone who went through the same thing and was going through the same difficulties really helped me be more confident.

Through peer mentoring, students have a support person that they can go to with questions that they may be reluctant to ask in a classroom setting, said Professor Karen George, Title III Activity Director and Advising Specialist. They benefit from the experiences of a peer who has been through what they may be experiencing as a new student.

Peer mentoring is an integral part of the Foundations of Learning (GEN102) course taken by many new students. All Gen 102 students have an assigned mentor, and any other first year student can request a mentor.

How to be a Mentor

Because mentoring requires knowledge of college procedures and services, as well as communication skills, Peer Mentors go through training on a continual basis.

We have training before the semester begins and every Friday for two hours, said Professor George. Initial training focuses on how to conduct a mentoring session and how to build trust and respect with the mentees. Weekly training topics include conflict management, bullying, team facilitation, active learning, communication, leadership, goal setting and academic advising.

In addition to training, mentors must attend the GEN 102 classes they are mentoring and have one office hour per class. Peer Mentors are part-time employees paid through the Title III grant, and they are nominated by faculty and staff or other mentors.

My Psychology instructor nominated me for Peer Mentoring the first semester I was here, said William (Bill) Gallaher, a Flatwoods resident who is majoring in counseling. I think the nomination was because I was organized and took directions well, because the truth is, I was scared of my college career. Once I got into mentoring, I discovered that this is what I love to do help people.

Like many of the students he mentors, Gallaher had overcome many challenges in life. When he had a stroke 25 years ago, he was unable to continue as a riverboat pilot. After years of a variety on construction and other jobs, he decided to see if he could do college-level work in spite of the stroke.

Gallaher has been earning As and Bs and his goal has expanded from an associate degree to a masters degree. He is currently in the 2+2 counseling program with ACTC and Lindsey Wilson College.

Mentoring is valuable for the mentors because it provides them with opportunities to serve in roles of leadership. Professor George said. They benefit from the boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth by helping others.

While I have been fortunate enough to help students, mentoring has been a wonderful self-development experience also, said Donna McClave, an ACTC graduate who will graduate from Lindsey Wilson College in December with a BA in Human Services and Counseling. She plans to continue on for a Masters Degree.

One benefit for example is that I was once very afraid of speaking to groups, and now I am a little less nervous about speaking in front of a classroom full of people, McClave said. We also have a wonderful opportunity to take part in community events, such as this falls Domestic Violence Awareness project spearheaded by the peer mentors.

Being a peer mentor has been an amazing experience, said Heather R. Scarberry, an ACTC graduate now attending Morehead State University. I have learned so much about myself and all the people I work with and go to school with every day. I have made many acquaintances and memories that I will never forget.

This experience has been a real eye opener, said Scarberry. I never knew what a hard life was until I was put in front of a class full of college students aged 18 to 60 who have come from circumstances I never had to experience. I do everything possible to be the most effective person they ever encounter, because that positive experience may be the difference between whether they continue with school or drop out.

I originally came to college in hopes of being an elementary education major, but since starting this journey, I now plan on teaching college students, said Scarberry, a Flatwoods resident and 2008 Russell High School graduate. After getting her Bachelors Degree in Elementary Education, she plans to earn Masters and Doctorate degrees and teach at a college, perhaps ACTC.

How Mentoring Helps Students

Peer mentoring helps the recipients stay in college. In fall 2009, 83% of the peer mentoring participants reenrolled for spring semester, compared to 76% of credential seeking students.

The peer mentor process is also evaluated each semester by the students, instructors and the mentors themselves. Of the 209 students responding to the Fall 2010 evaluation survey, 85% said they would definitely recommend peer mentoring to other students, while 13% said they would probably recommend peer mentoring.

In questions about goal setting and college information, 88% said the mentors helped them develop personal and life goals, 95% agreed that mentors helped them develop academic goals and 99% said their mentors had helped them with information on college services, career resources and academics.

One student in the survey said: I felt more comfortable in class knowing there was one student in particular I could ask for help and receive it. I felt more secure about the college experience.

Mentoring is a win/win situation for both mentors and mentees, said Professor George. The process improves student retention by giving new students an experienced guide through college obstacles. It also provides the mentors with life and work experiences that reinforce their own determination to succeed.

When students ask questions about the subject, it opens your mind to different ideas and the mentor will learn too, Gallaher said. I have learned so much that will help me in life, but the most important lesson that I have learned in my experience as a Peer Mentor is just to listen.

The best reward is knowing that the student and I have both achieved what we set out to do, he added.

This experience has been literally life changing for me, and I also like to think it has been for many of my students, said Scarberry. I cant think of anything better than teaching students who I can learn from every day and who constantly make me question myself and what Im doing to make this a better place to live.

For more information on the Peer Mentor program, contact Professor George at 606-326-2022 or email: karen.george@kctcs.edu.

###