Students Guide the Way

October 26, 2017

At Greenfield Community College, students are helping students navigate the college experience. Six peer mentors are part of GCC’s new College & Career Compass initiative and they offer support to students at the Peer Mentor Studio in the Academic Advising Center. The peer mentors range in age from late teens to 60s and study a wide range of fields, including Biology, Education, pre-Nursing, Engineering, and Liberal Arts focused on Spanish and social sciences.

Peer mentors support students in developing general college success skills—things that are important to doing well, but are not taught in the classroom. This includes: setting realistic goals (and sticking to them); understanding college vocabulary, policies, and expectations; time management and organizing course material; learning to talk to professors; navigating GCC resources and actually connecting with these supports; using online tools like MyGCC and Moodle; and self-assessment activities that help students think about majors and careers. Peer mentors have been through the college adjustment process. They understand potential barriers and can help their peers avoid roadblocks. Peer mentors work closely with the College & Career Compass advisors to develop their own college success, mentoring, and leadership skills. They play a pivotal role in the Compass workshops taking place throughout the fall semester that focus on time management, career exploration, and preparing for registration advising.

Tonya Blundon, College & Career Compass Academic Advisor and Coordinator said, “Students helping students can be really powerful. Peer mentors are here to be the rock for students who are new to the college experience, or who have been here a few times but still haven’t quite found their niche. Peer mentors offer judgment-free support from the student-perspective, far more accessible than similar advice coming from a faculty or staff member. And the mentoring relationship is mutually beneficial. I think our mentors get as much out of the relationship as the students they are mentoring, learning valuable leadership and communication skills from the process.”

“We are fortunate to have received the grant that has developed the College and Career Compass,” commented GCC Dean of Students Anna Berry. “The Peer Mentoring program is a key piece of the pie and we are very excited to see how students respond to the support from their peers. Tonya Blundon is spot on when she highlights the power of peer advice. Students have a level of credibility that staff and faculty do not. They are deep in the same experience and that shared experience carries a lot of weight.”

Peer mentors already are making a big difference for new students. One mentor/mentee connection led to a new student finding and applying for a scholarship she otherwise would have missed. Another student fell behind in a class and met with a mentor to create a plan for catching up and moving forward. Working on a long-term study plan greatly reduced her stress. Students come in to the Peer Mentor Studio in the Advising Center just to hang out between classes. Feeling comfortable and welcome, they chat about getting involved at GCC, about classes, about life in general.

The College & Career Compass Peer Mentor program is funded by a U.S. Department of Education Strengthening Institutions Program (SIP) grant. The creation of the College & Career Compass Mentor program and resulting activities are in accordance with the Greenfield Community College grant award.

Messages from Your  Mentors:

Olatunde Cooper, 35, Ashfield, Biology major, will take Massachusetts Test for Educator Licensure, and transfer to UMASS Amherst to study biology and education. Plans to teach secondary education, possibly early childhood education.

Why I chose to be a Peer Mentor: In fall 2001, I enrolled full-time at the University of New Mexico. I had assistance from my older siblings who were attending college, however I lacked direction about my academic future. Despite a 3.5 GPA, with no idea of what I wanted to study, and fear of amassing further student loan debt, I didn’t return for the spring semester. Students attending GCC each face different obstacles in their academic journey. I would have benefited from a peer reaching out to me, to help me with basic questions about navigating the academic landscape. I want to be a resource to students who didn’t grow up taking practice SATs. I want to be there for students who don’t have family members available to hold their hands through the first semesters. Sometimes we all need our hands held, and I have a couple of free ones.

Message to GCC Students: No matter what the problem, help is always right around the corner. Students enter college with varying degrees of preparedness. Not every student has a solid foundation, but that doesn’t mean it is too late to start building one. Stop by peer mentoring and let us help you lay those first few bricks.

Brenna Durrah, 25, Greenfield, Liberal Arts Education option with Sociology concentration, studying toward an associates degree and eventually a masters. Will transfer to continue education and pursue career as a teacher.

Why I chose to be a peer mentor: For a long time, I struggled with college and I had to find resources by myself, if I ever did. Once I found what I needed, it made everything easier. By being a peer mentor, I am able to connect students to the things they need but don’t know exist. I love working with people and enjoy being able to meet new students and help them with whatever they need.

Message to GCC students: Peer mentoring has been so helpful for the mentees I’ve had. We are here to help. It is important to complete school. It can be really hard and it may not be for everyone, but getting this education can really change lives. Nothing should stop people wanting to achieve those goals. I love this program and am happy to be a part of something that I feel is so useful to everyone at GCC.

Patricia (Patti) Waters, 60, Shelburne, Studying toward a Liberal Arts General associates degree. Will transfer to Frances Perkins program at Mount Holyoke College (or find a great job!)

Why I chose to be a peer mentor: I was excited to be part of a “start up” program at GCC and like the purpose of Peer Mentoring. I want to help students be successful. I like connecting with other students and seeing them connect at GCC. I hope this program helps build community here.

Message to GCC students: Don’t be shy! If you come here to ask a question or look for support and connection, you will find it at Peer Mentoring! Stop in and meet us, see the space. Build relationships. You can come to school every day and leave or you can know a peer mentor and have a familiar face on campus.

Stop By the Peer Mentor Studio in the Academic Advising Center, C118

Monday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Tuesday: 10:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and 2 to 5 p.m.

Wednesday: 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 6 p.m.

Thursday: 10:30 a.m. to 2:15 p.m. and 1 to 5 p.m.

Friday: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For information, contact Tonya Blundon at (413) 775-1170.

By Mary McClintock, ‘82

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