A mentor can be many things: an adviser, a supporter, an educator, a cheerleader, a helping hand, a shoulder to lean on, and a friend.
A mentor can be a Mountaineer.
A mentor can also be a business student.
Listen to the full story.
However, many pieces had to come together over the years for the program to be what it is today.
Rachel Nieman, director for Recruitment and Retention, as well as the Academic engagement Success Center (AeSC), led the Chambers College Student Ambassador program from 2014 to 2020, but saw an opportunity for a similar group of students to mentor incoming freshman.
“I had a lot of experience working with student leaders. The ambassadors are volunteers, whereas I knew I wanted the mentors to be tied to a class.”
And what better class to tie the program to than the College’s BCOR 191 courses?
The Chambers College BCOR 191 course is the business version of West Virginia University’s freshman seminar course.
“Creating a business-specific first-year seminar was really crucial in getting a peer mentorship program to be operational, something that we were able to bring from idea to fruition,” she said.
A mentor can be a Mountaineer.- Rachel Nieman
A mentor can also be a business student.
After running the Student Ambassador program and then attending a first-year seminar conference where she learned best practices from other schools, Nieman was ready to launch the Peer Mentorship Program.
It is a one-credit hour course (BCOR 490) and requires students who have taken BCOR 191 (or a similar freshman seminar class) to submit an application for consideration, have an interview to be selected, work with their BCOR 191 instructor and mentees and provide brief updates once a week to their BCOR 490 instructor.
“We look for students who are passionate about making an impact and can do three
things: be a positive role model for new business students, serve as a resource
to both the students and their class, as well as to the instructor of BCOR 191
that they are partnered with, and to be a facilitator of participation in the classroom,”
“This program adds so much to our freshman experience,” said Rebel Smith, assistant dean for undergraduate programs. “In BCOR 191, students are able to learn from professionals in the Chambers College. Now they are also able to listen to the wise words of a peer mentor, someone who has successfully navigated their first year already. We know that they value what their peers say much more than what we have to say, so I’m thrilled to be able to offer both to our incoming students.”
Nieman and her team had the goal of having one mentor for every section of BCOR 191, which is about 20 sections. Each section has 20-25 students, so that it is a 1:20 or 25 ratio of mentor to mentees.
For Fall 2020, the program’s first year, they reached their goal. And due to COVID-19, did so in a virtual format.
“I needed to fill at least 22 spots the first year and already had more than 48 applicants (in 2020) and 43 the second year (in 2021),” Nieman said. “Students are hungry for these types of opportunities to participate and have leadership roles, and I encourage them to reapply the next year or try to find a similar experience on campus.”
Students who are a Chambers College ambassador are also welcome to apply.
“The work complements one another. Ambassadors are working with prospective students and families – telling people who are not at WVU about the University and why they should come join our College – while mentors are talking with students who have already made that decision and trying to help them get the most out of their opportunities here.”
One key difference: peer mentors work with the same group of students for 16 weeks or more.
Diversity of the group is important in order to meet freshmen students where they are.
“It’s important to me that we have a variety of students in the program who show multiple viewpoints, such as first-generation students, international students, students of color, students who are in a business organization, students from West Virginia and out of state, students who are in club sports or Greek life and even non-traditional students – things outside of the business school that also really add to a student's college experience.”
These students are also extremely kind-hearted and genuinely happy to help.
“I want my team of students to be able to answer any question that might come their way,” Nieman said. “I tell the mentors (and ambassadors) that they don’t have to know everything, but they should know who to direct them to if they don’t know an answer.”
It’s important to me that we have a variety of students in the program who show multiple viewpoints.- Rachel Nieman
“The Peer Mentorship Program has really helped me unlock the answers to what being a Mountaineer means,” said Alex Goss, a finance senior. “I’ve been beyond fortunate to work with and mentor some of the best students on campus. As Mountaineers, it’s fundamental to place an emphasis on helping others and this program has been a great way for students to accomplish that, while also making a difference in the lives of so many.”
It may have been frustrating to have the program go virtual in its first year, but it was also a blessing in disguise.
“I think everyone was feeling the nervousness surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and the students saw this as an opportunity to help freshmen get as good as an experience as possible, knowing they wouldn’t have the same first-year welcome as they had once had,” Nieman said.
Whether mentoring virtually or in-person while on-campus, Nieman admits the program must deploy problem solving, leadership development and professional development for business students.
“We’ve had guest speakers and young alumni come and talk about how these leadership roles translate to qualities that employers are looking for, because a lot of the same skills you learn by being a mentor are what companies are looking for in terms of management.”
Mentors gain the opportunity of taking the CliftonStrengths Assessment so that they can better understand their own strengths and how they can recognize strengths in others.
“The goal is not to make the students a cookie-cutter version of their peer mentor, but to help these freshmen reach their own unique goals.”
Each peer mentor is also required to meet with their mentees one-on-one by the semester’s midterm.
Fun part: it’s up to the mentor to decide how they want to meet.
“Whether they want to make a Doodle poll for students to sign up or hold office hours for students to drop by, or go have coffee together, I left it up to the mentors to decide how they want to meet because they will soon have that flexibility in a job,” Nieman said.
Weekly reflections are also a key component to the program.
“Written reflection is super important in their own leadership journey, as it’s a tool to help them grow and learn, and think about what it is that they’re doing as a mentor. Then, for me as the program leader, it’s a way to triage any problems or issues that are happening within the class or with a student.
“Some students who thought they were not going to be able to make it through college, or at least their first year, said that their peer mentor helped reinforce that they could stay and make it here.”
From mental health and personal matters to study tips and club recommendations, peer mentors heard it all.
“There was a lot of positive support and some students took advantage of having this Big Brother/ Sister-type person in their class to help navigate their transition into adulthood,” Nieman said.
Some students who thought they were not going to be able to make it through college, or at least their first year, said that their peer mentor helped reinforce that they could stay and make it here.- Rachel Nieman
To Nieman, the program is a triple win.
“The mentors love the experience, the instructors love having the mentors be a part of their class, and the freshmen love having their mentor. It’s a win, win, win,” she said.
Once at Reynolds Hall, Nieman sees mentors and mentees making connections more easily as they will have the physical space and the atmosphere to interact in a study room, lab or interactive classroom.
“Feedback from our first semester freshmen has been overwhelmingly positive,” Smith said. “They have really appreciated and valued having a peer mentor in their freshman seminar course. I like that they are there, too, because they add a perspective that I, and others, cannot.”
In their own words
Students – both mentors and mentees – anonymously submitted their feedback about what they enjoyed most about the Peer Mentorship Program.
Click the image below to read through them here:
At the end of the Fall 2021 semester, a survey proved that mentors are here to stay.
- Nine out of 10 respondents indicated their peer mentor helped them ease their transition from high school to college.
- 99% agreed or strongly agreed that their peer mentor shared personal knowledge and skills to help the freshmen be successful in their first semester of college.
- 98% percent of freshman respondents agreed or strongly agreed that their peer mentor provided useful tips to help them succeed in BCOR 191 and beyond.
- 91% percent agreed or strongly agreed that their peer mentor was a valuable resource
In the end, a mentor is a friend and one you can have for life.
The students may have gained the title of “mentor” to add to their resumes, but they will walk away from college knowing they have made life-long friends.
Much like the Mountaineer spirit... once a mentor, always a mentor.