I have just been awarded a Critical Difference for Women Professional Development Grant! This grant will help me continue to run/fund KindCarts Service Initiative, my kindness-based service project for the James Cancer Hospital. It will allow us to expand our donations and include more health–related items, such as rice bags, which help ease pain by acting as a heating/cooling pad for the patients. From my opportunities and my support system, to all the love around me, I have been so lucky and am, once again, to have been given this opportunity to help others and do what I love!
Today, I was able to present my Peer Mentor Project through my internship with OSU’s Arts and Sciences’ Honors Advising Office. As students, and people, come into our own, we form opinions. And, such as, it’s inevitable that those opinions will clash. Challenging ourselves, our assumptions, and our viewpoints are an essential part of growth and I am so overjoyed to have had the chance to present about how to navigate these situations, from identifying the differences between dialogue, debate and discussion to choosing appropriate responses to triggering situations.
Coming into my second year as a peer mentor, I’m not quite sure how much I expected my experience to change. Although I anticipated more responsibility, and hoped to improve on the areas where I struggled, I still believed that the classroom experience, especially the interpersonal component, would be nearly identical. As the semester goes on, I find myself happily surprised. My connections with my students and fellow peer mentors has become closer than I would have ever thought, which has brought a different, but special, twist to this year’s class.
One of the areas that I feel like I have definitely improved upon is the peer mentor event. Earlier in the semester, I had a few impromptu events during Undergraduate Research Week. The overwhelming majority of my survey class has expressed an interest in research, so I thought adding the extra incentive of it counting for a peer mentor event might push them to check it the URO’s events. I had two students come, one to a research panel discussing how to get involved, and another to the Fall Undergraduate Poster Forum. Each time, I was able to talk with the students and answer questions, from how I got involved in research, to how I decide to budget my time. I did like the tenor of the events because it allowed the students to ask questions that they’re curious about, but haven’t been/won’t be covered in class. However, due to the small number and the instructional nature of the events, the students saw the “mentor” before the “peer.”
For my first official peer mentor event, I arranged for the students to come to Jazz by Mirror Lake. I was ecstatic when ten students arrived! A few came on their own and others came in groups. This event had a significantly more social feel, with the students interacting freely with each other and with me. The large group and relaxed atmosphere definitely made the students seem more at ease, so here, I was more the “peer” than the “mentor,” which led to amazing, more personal talks.
One difference I wasn’t expecting was the changing relationship I have with my students on an individual basis. Last year, despite the fact that I became closer to some students more than others, they were still largely one entity for me. They were “the class.” This year, I know more of them by name and face. This may be due to the fact that we can identify with each other more. We’re all focused on biological sciences, all pre-med and most of us are Neuroscience majors. I constantly run into and interact with the first-years in the Neuro Advising Office. Sometimes the run-ins become an almost hilarious occurrence. There’s one student, Claire, who I met at Pre-Convocation Survey. She’s not in my class, yet we see each other nearly every week purely by accident. We’ve bumped into each other at URO events, at MUNDO meetings, at Recess on the Oval, at the Party at the Wex, at the Kinky Boots musical downtown, etc. As odd as it started out, it’s turned into a lovely friendship where we can tell each other about different events we may like (since we have similar tastes), about what Neuro classes we’re planning to take and about life in general. Seeing her so often has also made her comfortable enough to email me with whatever questions she has about OSU and her first year. Although not logistically feasible, it would be incredible if I had such a relationship with all my students, where “peer” and “mentor” are synonymous with “friend.”
Another student-interaction difference this year was that someone reached out for my help. After sharing my transition story, a student (whom we will call Christopher) approached me and confided that he was going through similar issues. The feeling was bittersweet. On one hand, the reason that I applied to Peer Mentors in my sophomore year was for this situation—to serve as a voice for those in my situation and to help those still in it. However, I also wished that no student would be in that place and I worried that I would give the wrong advice or suggest a path that, while it may have worked for me, would not be helpful to him. Thankfully, Christopher was able to get the support he needed, from myself, the peer mentors in my class, and others around him.
This incident brought home that fact that, more than anything, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the dynamic between my follow peer mentors and me. We work together in a way that often seems seamless. We share our different ideas throughout the week on GroupMe and keep each other up to date on various in-class issues. In Christopher’s case, we all kept an eye on him to see how he was doing from survey to survey. I could talk to him about certain issues; Sean was able to be there for him as a friend outside of class (they were in Bio lab together) and Carol walked him over to the Student Health Center at a critical moment. So when our advisor, Joe Brately, commented that Christopher seemed off, we were able to let him know of the situation.
Another similar situation occurred during “Communication at the University” week. I wasn’t originally scheduled to come in, so Sean and Carol created a game plan of who would handle the presentation, how the skits would go, etc. When that week became an AHOD day, they were able to quickly change their plans to that I would be included as well. Later in that class period, Carol had to leave suddenly, leaving Sean and me to completely improv skits that he and Carol had originally prepared. However, even with all the changes, the presentations/skits went amazingly.
As the term goes on, I find myself looking forward to different parts of survey. Often I look forward to the subject matter, especially if it’s something I’m passionate about. Sometimes I’m excited for the student presentations, such as when they share about the resources they’ve learned about on campus. But every class, I know I can look forward to the people in my survey and the connections we make each and every day.
Yesterday, I had recess again. Ohio State Counseling and Consultation Services and various collaborators created a playground on the South Oval. I came the moment it began, excited to be a kid again, to have unapologetic fun. My friend and I blew bubbles in each other’s faces, chased them on the wind. We made our initials in the loom strung between the trees, put up our Six Word Stories. I guiltlessly created trail mix that was all chocolate chips and painted a small family of rock friends. All around us, other students were taking a break to run through the bouncy house, make animal balloons, break boards. The air sang with laughter and silliness and the ease of kindergarten fun.
Throughout the playground, different signs explained different ways to play. The Artist, the Joker, the Collector, the Storyteller, etc. You were to get a stamp at each station and turn it in at the end. But on the back of your hall pass, it asked you-what do you know about playing and mental health? What have you learned?
What did I know? I know the names and terminology. I know the difference between stressed and anxious, and the impact they can have on how you eat, feel, live. I’ve always been cognizant, knew the dangers, the pitfalls and that it’s a rising problem for my demographic. The status of a college student can be an odd one. We’re not children, but we’re not grown-up. We’re adult enough to be arrested, to held accountable for our actions, to pay rent and to hold responsibilities. Yet, we’re not adult enough to be considered independent in the eyes of the law, not adult enough to be seen as part of the work force, to be seen as a fully formed person. We still have the excuse, “I am a college student,” but we also have the chiding statement, “You are a college student.” This tenuous stance, the various pressures of college, midterms, organizations, pre-track requirements, succeeding, figuring out who we are, figuring out who we’re going to be—they pile on students and the result can become a perpetual monster on their back.
Within the last few months, it’s become closer to me. I’ve seen my friends struggle with their own monsters. With stress, with mental health disorders, with social anxiety, with depression. I have seen those close to my heart struggle to get out of bed, fight to still their hands so the rest of the group doesn’t notice that they’re having an anxiety attack; cry, silent and heartbreaking, so that no one “is bothered.”
Mental health issues are as real, and as trying, as physical issues, but still we have a stigma. We still have to reiterate the realness of these trials. We still have to educate students about how to take care of themselves, to safeguard their mental health just as they do their physical.
So what did I learn? One way to do protect your mental health is to take time to play—and I’m guilty of forgetting.
I love to keep busy, love to feel like I’m contributing something to someone every moment. I’m the girl who brings work from her research lab on her summer vacation to Disney World. I looked at my schedule at the beginning of the year—consisting of 18 credit hours, an internship, research, weekly volunteering, three organizations where I hold executive positions, making sure I had time for friends and visits home—and felt like I didn’t have enough to do. On weekdays when I’m all done with homework, I email friends for work to do, often editing resumes, papers or something similar to keep my mind engaged. My color-coded schedule has exhausted ROY G. BIV, and ventured into his extended family of hues.
In the past, I’ve scheduled the activities that I enjoy to coincide with my work. Combined crafting with organization meetings, combined learning more about society with a research project. It’s a wonderful system; it makes me excited to do work. And that’s how it should be. But sometimes, that puts more pressure on you, pushes stress and worries into something that should be truly relaxing, until the line between fun and work becomes too smudged to differentiate.
At this event, I wasn’t thinking about the paper I had to finish later that night. I wasn’t thinking about prepping the next MUNDO meeting or if I had studied enough for the practice MCAT. The only thing on my mind was eating mini chocolate chips. Blowing the bubbles so they hit my friend square in the face. Seeing how many different smiles I could paint on these rocks. Playtime is something that I will strive to keep alive in my everyday routine. Taking time to play is important. It safeguards your health, centers you so that you re-enter that pressure cooker space between child and adult, and reminds you of the simple joy of recess.