Social support is so critical, particularly at the college level. The more connected you are to your university, faculty, and students, the better your outcomes.
In the post-COVID era, members of the psychology department at Bridgewater State University noticed there was a breakdown in communication with students.
“We realized we weren’t interacting with each other as much, and finding it difficult to create a community,” said Dr. Ashley Hansen-Brown, assistant professor of psychology. “We kept thinking, 'What can we do?’”
It became obvious to Hansen-Brown, Dr. Stephanie Penley and Dr. Holly Grant-Marsney, that students were not receiving important information or were unaware about things like how to take advantage of different resources BSU and the department offers.
With more than 1,000 students enrolled, psychology is the largest major on campus, so providing one-on-one support with a limited staff wasn’t a feasible option.
“Beyond mentoring with faculty and advisors, we wanted to find a way to give every student the individualized attention they deserve,” Hansen-Brown said.
For input on the matter, they turned to students that Hansen-Brown was co-mentoring in a research lab, and after brainstorming, came up with the idea of the peer-mentoring program.
Nadia Calderon, ’23, who is part of the research lab, helped come up with the idea for the peer-mentoring program. She served as a mentor alongside fellow BSU students, Jillian Danielczyk, Sarah Smith, Mona Pace and Xander Barney.
As part of the program, mentors meet with students taking the Orientation to the Psychology Major course, taught by Dr. Holly Grant-Marsney. During the visits, mentors supplied students with pertinent information such as which classes are mandatory, when and why they are essential, how to network, how to create a resume, ways to look for a job, internships, research opportunities, and what a career in psychology might look like.
“We did our best to make it fun with games,” Calderon said.
She and her colleagues created a Jeopardy game and networking activity, an in-class discussion dealing with mentor’s experiences and more.
To fund the program, they applied for and were awarded a catalyst grant offered through the Division of Academic Affairs. The grants come from the Academic Innovation Fund, and are meant to support new ideas that advance divisional priorities
With the help of the catalyst grant, the program was also able to offer special events like an alumni panel, game night, and a de-stressing event. Calderon, and other students who came up with the idea for the program have also been collecting data as part of an Adrian Tinsley Program for Undergraduate Research and Creative Work Summer Grants.
The goal is to analyze the effectiveness of the peer mentor program.
During the spring semester, surveys were sent out to students in the seven orientation course sessions who participated in the pilot program.
“These (survey) findings could be crucially beneficial for the following semesters because they will help us understand what to do next,” Calderon said. “I hope that next semester more students can be a part of (the peer-mentoring program) and someday we will have a large number of peer-mentors and mentees. This is the beginning of a long-lasting impact on students’ lives.”
Hansen-Brown is optimistic about the future and potential impact of the program.
“We want to make sure we are doing everything we can to foster that sense of belonging,” she said. “Social support is so critical, particularly at the college level. The more connected you are to your university, faculty, and students, the better your outcomes.”
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