The first few weeks of uni are a pretty exciting time. This excitement, however, is often tempered with a good glob of terror and confusion. And no one ever mentions that mozzie spray is sometimes more important than a pen and paper.
You can feel lost geographically, socially and mentally.
Luckily, the University has a small platoon of current students who know all too well how overwhelming that first semester of university life can seem, and who make themselves available to help the new blood come to terms with campus and academic life.
Peer Mentors can make a huge difference in the life of a new student, and being a Peer Mentor can be incredibly rewarding. Paying it forward can become a step forward for yourself.
Being a mentor isn’t quite like being someone’s ‘buddy’; it’s a little more discreet than that. Depending on the needs of your mentee you might show them where the good coffee is, help them conquer the Hunter Building, direct them to a service or reassure them that self-doubt is totally normal.
You’re essentially someone a new student can turn to when they have a question and they’re not sure who to ask.
To become a Peer Mentor, you need to be in second year or above and have a GPA of 4.0 or more. You can calculate your GPA here.
You’ll also need to undergo a little bit of training in the form of an induction.
Further, you need to have a passion for helping people and be a student advocate. It helps if you’re organised, disciplined, patient and have some spare time up your sleeve – not to mention a willingness to share your knowledge and experience.
A Peer Mentor’s basic role is to be a first point of contact for new students who need a helping hand. A lot of their questions and problems can be solved through an email or a quick chat, although there are times when more complicated issues arise and you’ll need to refer them to the right people.
This is where the induction and training comes in. Personally, this was one of the most rewarding parts of the whole program, as I gained in-depth knowledge of the huge number of support programs, networks and cool people the uni has at a student’s disposal.
My mentor, Bobbie, made contact with me just before I commenced Week 1. There was sense of relief there, knowing there was someone I could contact who had worked out where everything was and how everything worked.
I had a chat to Bobbie recently and asked about the value of Peer Mentors.
“Passing on hints and tips that work for us, for students,” was high on her list.
“You can read all the brochures and help guides you want, and that’s fine and dandy, but students like to talk to students and avoid the spin.”
“It’s good for new students to find their workload, stress levels and problems with balancing uni with work and life are normal.”
One caveat, being a Peer Mentor does take up some time.
You need to contact your mentees each week from orientation until Week 6, meet up for a coffee and provide on-going support throughout the semester.
On the plus side, you get to reinforce your knowledge as you pass it on. A few times I’ve been helping mentees with some time management or study tips and been encouraged to tighten up my own.
You also get to develop a few decent interpersonal skills and meet some new people.
You might also have to deal with some emotional problems. Not directly, mind you, things above your pay grade are better shifted towards a professional, but it can still affect you. Luckily the program has a great support network attached who are good for a debrief.
In addition, there are some tangible benefits to becoming a peer mentor.
It looks great on a resume and participation is noted on your AHEG statement.
But the benefits don’t all appear on paper. As I mentioned before, you get to learn more about the intricate workings of the university, and this knowledge of the available support services has helped me out a few times.
I’ve also made a few friends, and you get a distinct feeling of warm and fuzzy when you see a mentee grow from a nervous little panic merchant, into a HD grabbing badass.
Having to email, communicate, meet and advise strangers is also a good way to bump you out of your comfort zone.
There’s probably good karma in there too, especially if you’ve had to help someone find EF-20.
The Mentor program also gives you access to free coffee vouchers you can use when meeting with a mentee, nothing to sneeze at for a poor, sleep deprived student.
If you are feeling like paying it forward and becoming a Peer Mentor you can fill out this form.
If you would like to contribute in other ways as well you can also register your interest in becoming a mentor by signing up to the Volunteers system. Be sure to select “I am interested in becoming a Peer Mentor” under Qualifications and you will be contacted about becoming a Peer Mentor. In the meantime, you can search for other volunteering opportunities in the UON Volunteers system or check out the Volunteers webpage to find out more.
If you’re commencing study at the University of Newcastle and would like a mentor, click here.