University of Vermont

The Honors College

Message from the Dean - December 2011

Abu Rizvi

For nearly 180 Honors College first-year students, today marks the end of the first semester. Students have finished their final exams and handed in their term papers. The beginning of the semester, when these students first arrived on campus, to them must seem a distant memory. During the semester, much has changed for the first-year students and some of this change came about as a result of the help of the Honors College peer leaders.

Peer mentoring is based on a number of promising ideas. Students are particularly attuned to receiving advice and counsel from other students. Peer mentoring builds on the fact that students are likely to be receptive to what they hear from their peers. In addition, incoming students need much more than academic advising in the strict sense to get going in their new lives: they need suggestions on which clubs to join, they need to know where their classes are held, and they need advice on when to schedule lunch. As well, they need a student perspective on the academic matters they'll hear about from professors, such as course and major choice or pursuing undergraduate research. More simply, students appreciate the welcome they receive from upper-class peers in their new academic and residential learning community.

This year, the Honors College tried a new approach to the peer mentoring of the incoming first-year class. Rather than simply matching interested upper-class Honors College students with incoming first-year students, we took a more structured approach. Potential peer mentors applied for and were interviewed for the position. Once chosen, they received training from our Student Leadership Coordinator (Higher Education and Student Affairs graduate student Samantha Stocksdale) on the questions and issues they were likely to encounter. The peer leaders also received suggestions on the sorts of activities they might undertake with their group of students they would mentor, who would number no more than ten. And the match between peer leaders and incoming students was made on the basis of shared interests. This preparation was not meant to blunt the spontaneity of interactions that were likely to occur but, given our previous experience with peer mentoring programs, we wanted to help ensure that these interactions would be as helpful, thoughtful and well-timed as possible.

We now have results from evaluations by the first-year students of their experience of the peer leader program. I'm pleased that, overall, the program succeeded in helping students make a successful transition to life at UVM. We'll make a few changes, to be sure, but the new peer leader program is one we'll continue next year.

Please enjoy this newsletter. As always, I look forward to hearing from you. Best wishes for restful and happy holiday season.

Last modified January 30 2012 11:38 AM