Reflect on your experience as a peer mentor to date.
Becoming an Honors Peer Mentor was, and has been, an amazing experience that I hope to continue for the rest of my college career. Sitting in on survey, adding my viewpoint and acting as a peer has given me so much more than I could have expected when I sent in my application.
I remember reading through the weekly advising emails and seeing a notice for upcoming peer mentors. It drew me immediately—I remembered my peer mentors, who seemed like bright, interesting people, but mostly I remembered their “transition story,” their accounts of their first year struggles. I remembered feeling more connected to them because of it.
At the time when I saw the notice, I’d just finished going a particularly rough patch. Although it was done, it remained fresh in my mind, and I was seeking a way to turn the experience around, make it an opportunity for growth, instead of loss, and reaching out for a way to find myself again. Peer Mentors seemed like the answer. I didn’t know anyone who had been through a similar situation, and despite all the social awareness that OSU works to cultivate, this was something that was never discussed. I decided to apply because I wanted to help the people in my situation, especially those in the earlier stages, and thought sharing my story would let them know that they weren’t alone. However, besides the transition challenge, I didn’t know what else the position would require.
I absolutely loved what I found. Due to a restructuring of the program, I found myself doing more responsibilities than the peer mentors I had in my survey. There were more opportunities to speak to share my opinion of various classes, ways I de-stressed, my research experience, etc. Talking to the students was my favorite part. I enjoyed learning their names, their stories, and especially when they would reach out to me. My most rewarding experience was when one of my survey students emailed me for advice after survey had ended.
There were other responsibilities as well, including peer mentor events. These were difficult, as I wasn’t sure whether I should make them more academic or more fun. I planned my first event, going to the Fall Undergraduate Research Forum, due to the fact that the majority of the class were science majors, with interest in research. My confidence was bruised when no one came. As a result, I planned my second event to be more social, the H&S Kuhnival. Three students ended up coming and it was a new experience to see them interacting with each other and myself. Looking back, I feel as though the group setting loosened them and let me see more of their true personalities in a non-classroom setting. I also met up with another student for coffee, talk about research and how to get involved.
The “transition challenge” was indeed a challenge. I didn’t know how to format it in a way that was honest, and yet, didn’t make students too uncomfortable. The actual presentation gave me apprehension as well. At this point, I’d only told the story twice and I wasn’t sure how it would come across, even once I wrote it out. I volunteered to practice it during training the week before—the feedback was positive and constructive, and the reactions of my fellow mentors made me feel safer about sharing.
When the day came, I felt ready, and confident that I could tell my story exactly as I rehearsed. The class laughed at my jokes at the beginning and all seemed well. Yet, by the time I got to the middle, I found that it was harder to talk about than I had convinced myself it would be. I ended up deviating off-script and revealing more of my emotions than I originally meant to, but I think it actually gave me a breakthrough on some of the feelings I’d initially been denying.
When the semester came to a close, I knew that I wanted to continue with peer mentors for another year. It had given more confidence in speaking in front of the class (something that I considered different from speaking in front of strangers, which I was more comfortable with due to the fact that I wouldn’t see them again). I liked getting refreshers on campus resources, and I felt like I had become a resource myself. I walked away feeling as though my opinion and my experiences were valid and could truly help younger students figure out their first year.
The main constructive criticism I had from my first year as a peer mentor was that I wanted even more responsibility. I wanted to do even more in the classroom, and thought it would be especially interesting to give a lesson, a suggestion that I gave during end of year wrap-up. So the news of the internship option gave me particular excitement, as well as the idea of being a Lead mentor this year.
The extra responsibilities is honestly my favorite difference between this year’s experience compared to last. From small things like putting together the schedule and archiving discussion boards, to larger projects like planning a lesson: it keeps me on my toes and lets me get more involved.
Compared to last year, I am more likely to speak up in class and share my student experience. A large part of this is the extra year of college. (Between this year and last, I now have experience with applying for grants, starting an organization/initiative, acting on executive boards, shadowing, etc.). But another part of it is the familiarity. Having been a peer mentor next year, I know some of the questions that the students have, so I can supply that information from a peer perspective. I also feel more comfortable, allowing my personality to come through more easily.
Last year’s experience has also prompted me to change my peer mentor events. This year, both of my events have a largely social component, and both are in the evening, when students are more likely to be free. I chose my first event, Jazz at Mirror Lake, due to its fun, laidback nature, which should allow for lots of time to get to know each other, as well as its timing (right before the first round of midterms, so that they can de-stress beforehand). I chose my second event, volunteering at the Buckeye Village Fall Festival, again, due to its fun nature, but also for the service component. As a group of largely pre-med students, I want them to be aware of service opportunities on campus that aren’t necessarily in the medical field.
Looking ahead, my internship project/lesson plan will most likely hold my focus. I’ve decided to deviate from the original syllabus and create my own lesson, focusing on the theme of how to communicate on difficult/uncomfortable topics. I believe that it’s important to know how to navigate a situation where you’re not in your comfort zone, whether that’s because you disagree with someone or because you’re are being triggered. This seems especially important for first-years, as many of them are entering the real world, where they may be living/working with people with fundamentally different views, and where more serious situations and considerations are entering their lives. As such, I want to focus my project on difficult communication, touching on the difference between dialogue, discussion and debate, how to navigate controversy and how to handle the conversation when they, or those around them, are triggered.
Looking back and looking forward, my time as an Honors Peer Mentor is, and has been, a learning experience, and a pleasure. I can’t wait to see how the rest of the year is going to turn out and how much more I can teach, and learn, from my time in survey.