June 29, 2010
The upfront personalized attention first-year students receive continues on through the peer mentor program. Peer mentors receive more than 75 hours of training in the summer and then additional training throughout the academic year. Peer mentors participate in weekly classes and discussions that provide accountability, leadership and citizenship training and focus on the development of personal and social responsibility.
Laura Berk (Class of 2012) was a peer mentor and now serves as a student coordinator. She recalls her first-year experience fondly. "It was incredible being able to have two upperclassmen as role models and resources," said Berk. "My mentors introduced me to the campus by getting me involved in student organizations and Greek life. I had such a great experience with my mentors; I wanted to pay it forward."
Berk is now the person that welcomes and integrates first-year students—and she loves what she does. "When you start getting letters over the summer from your peer mentor, it completely puts you at ease,” she said. “No matter what, you'll know at least two people when you get to campus."
Peer mentors begin communicating with their “mentees” soon after acceptance, using a variety of formats from hand-written letters to Facebook messages to blogs. “By the time a student comes to Rollins, I've already talked to them and their parents several times. We know every new student personally before the fall session begins.”
Berk has spoken to her friends enrolled in other schools and is amazed at how much more personalized and individualized the first-year program is at Rollins. "Our program is so extraordinary here because it continues through an entire semester, it doesn’t end after the first week of orientation," said Berk. "Right from the beginning, the faculty adviser sees you three times a week and this makes the adviser a much more credible counselor when picking courses and academic direction. I felt like my adviser really knew me and the type of student I am."
Berk believes that the careful fostering of student connections is a critical component of first year programs. "Explorations allows new students to establish great relationships within classmates, getting to know other students who are in the same position and have the same fears," said Berk.
Sometimes peer mentoring makes the difference between staying and leaving. "A few years ago I had a mentee in her first week tell me that she was planning on dropping out of Rollins after the first semester. She promised her parents that she would stay at least one semester," recalled Berk. "She just needed someone to show her the ropes and help her see that there was so much for first-year students to get involved with. I encouraged her to get involved in student organizations and I took her to meetings. She's now in her junior year year and she made the Dean's list last semester."