CSUEB peer mentors with FIT students from Japan in September 2011.
Thinking of pursuing a business degree, but ultimately unsure of what his future held, freshman student Omar Sanchez made his way to Cal State East Bay's Peer Mentor office.
As the first quarter of his freshmen year came to a close, Sanchez hadn’t declared a major and felt increasingly confused. Entering the Peer Mentor office to seek guidance, Sanchez was unsure of whom to speak to about his major options, but was introduced to peer mentor Adiel Dimarucut, who accompanied him to the General Education Department to speak with an advisor.
Sanchez left the office smiling and relieved, leaving Dimarucut feeling a sense of triumph.
“The fact that you can reach out to someone and influence the decisions they make is a rewarding experience,” said Dimarucut. “It’s amazing to know that you helped someone.”
The Peer Mentor Program seeks to give students a positive freshman year experience by promoting collective growth and guiding them through educational and social outlets, said Valerie Machacek, director of Peer Mentor Services.
Introduced by the General Education Department in 2009, the Peer Mentor Program serves CSUEB’s freshman learning communities — clustered courses revolving around a common theme, such as music, nursing or the environment. Participants in each learning community take courses together throughout the year, including a required general studies course.
The program was built on a foundation of student participation, as sophomore, junior and senior volunteers act as peer mentors, providing guidance and stability for incoming college freshmen.
In collaboration with general studies instructors, peer mentors facilitate class discussions, organize study groups and meet one-on-one with freshmen to assist them with their transition to college-level courses.
“It gives students a place to go and talk to a peer, someone who has gone through a year ahead of them,” said Machacek. “It’s more likely that (freshmen) might use a campus resource, if they are encouraged to do so by someone older than them.”
What began as a small guidance program with 10 student mentors has developed into a program with 38 student mentors who play multiple roles on campus.
Monse Rueda-Hernandez, one of the student mentors, said the program focuses on more than academics; it also builds campus involvement by helping students transition socially into college life. Other student mentors agreed that connecting freshmen on a personal level with students similar in age encourages them to participate in campus activities.
“The program empowers college freshmen by helping them to familiarize themselves with the many opportunities and resources available on campus,” said Nichole Maharaj, a peer mentor. “(It also helps) freshmen realize that there is someone on this large campus to talk to as they encounter new challenges or new personal victories.”
Although the program’s main goal is to assist in the academic and social growth of first-time freshmen, Machacek said the program also offers advancement opportunities to the peer mentors.
“There is a huge secondary focus,” said Machacek. “The program changes the peer mentors. When they make a high level of commitment to a classroom for an academic year, their own academic work improves. And the community they build between the peer mentors is amazing.”
After students participate in the Peer Mentor Program fall quarter of their freshmen year, they are invited to apply to become a mentor for the following school year. Those selected participate in a required leadership training class spring quarter to prepare for their new role on campus.
Being involved in the program allowed Maharaj to begin fulfilling her desire to contribute to the welfare of others.
Aside from self-advancement, Machacek says the Peer Mentor Program also supports the university’s goal to retain as many students as possible. “Some students have remained on campus because of this program,” she said. “It has helped the (CSUEB) retention rate.”
“All of (us) mentors are extremely dedicated to helping others and that passion just overflows into all aspects of our lives,” said Maharaj. “Through that, you start to develop a greater focus on not only helping your GS students achieve their goals, but for you to accomplish your own as well.”