Peer Mentors Build Legacy of Student Supportby Jan Janes on Apr 6, 2019
While many students enjoyed a respite from their college activities the first week of April, Peer Mentors staffed Gavilan College’s Welcome Center and met to discuss strategies and best practices.
Student services with a personal connection
The Peer Mentor program grew out of the former Rambassadors, funded by Title V monies. With the recent improvements to the Student Center, counseling offices, financial aid, admissions and college administrative offices, the program streamlined new and returning student onboarding and support.
Six of the current Peer Mentor students will graduate in May, and Student Life Coordinator Ryan Shook is recruiting to fill their positions.
Gavilan College Peer Mentors met during spring break to discuss best practices and plan for
the upcoming year. Pictured (clockwise from top left) Andy Avila Ayala, Amber Bell, Bryanna Gilges, Marisella Olmos,
Jacqueline Anchondo, Ryan Shook, Tina Lemmon, Jacob Spaulding, S. Skye Gonzalez,
Anjelica Johnson, Elizabeth Williams.
Peer Mentors, often the first point of contact with new and returning students, greet students at the Welcome Center, help with college applications, answer questions by phone and online, arrange counseling appointments and offer a friendly student-peer perspective to students. Working with professional staff in student services programs, they learn the application requirements and guide students through the online sites.
“The program is not just about them helping other students,” said Shook. “Participants become the best they can be, learning leadership and self-confidence. This is a synergistic group.”
Inside view of college support services
Each peer mentor learns and works with all the student support services. They gain an inside look at the services from a student perspective. In addition, a mentor works one on one with 30 students in their academic area of study during the semester. Peer Mentors, as a group, works as a team to brainstorm strategies, work through problems students might have, and suggest solutions.
Breaking the ice with new students, one Peer Mentor meets at lunch. Another offers a tour, starting at the Welcome Center, and visiting financial aid, counseling, picking up a snack at the Gilroy Pantry before stopping by EOPS, TRiO, Career Transfer Center, Math Tutoring Center and Writing Center. Peer mentors work with students side by side, doing homework together. New students discover that second years, even as they prepare to graduate, also have questions and need support.
“A benefit to Peer Mentors is our personal access to student support services staff,” said Marisella Olmos. “We discover and can share all that information to students who don’t have those contacts.” Peer Mentors can help students navigate the requirements of all the different programs. “I can tell a student, if you add units you will qualify for these programs.”
The personal touch has helped others stay in school. “I can share with them that it’s hard sometimes,” Olmos said. Students can go through crazy stuff, feel all alone and wonder if they can stick it out. “One student was struggling to schedule classes, had transportation and child care problems, and I offered to give her a hug. She told me later it made the difference, not dropping.”
According to Shook, that kind of messaging can help the student even further down the road. “If a student needs to withdraw, the Peer Mentor can help them with that,” he said. It also sets up the conversation about coming back the next semester. “Peer mentors can show them options, try to get a student to meet with a counselor, advise of W deadlines.”
“We don’t want to lose students,” said Shook “But we also want to set them up when they want to come back.” Peer mentors offer student support and understanding. “The college needs to grow each year,” he continued, “and we need to retain more students.” The Peer Mentors help retain students who might be thinking about dropping, and they suggest on-and off-campus student support services.
Peer Mentors can also work with high school students at educational forums, encouraging those who have never thought of college as part of their future.
Mentorship promotes leadership
The mentors receive training in guidance classes and attend student conferences. They work year round on campus, and they have the flexibility to schedule each semester’s classes around their work hours.
“It’s a good first step in beginning our journey in a career,” said Skye Gonzalez. “It taught me how to work with others in a professional way and learn what students need.” Peer mentors have direct contact with student services staff and learn about scholarships and other opportunities.
Newcomer Andy Avila Ayala expressed excitement about joining. “I’m here because, after my summer job ended, I asked Judy Rodriguez at the Hollister campus for help,” she said. “Peer mentors look super confident helping new people out, which is beneficial for themselves and others.”
Amber Bell wasn’t confident at first. “I didn’t think I could at first, because I didn’t think I knew enough.” Peer mentors are trained for all the jobs by Shook, other peer mentors and staff in student services departments. “Just try it, it might be something you like.”
For Jacob Spaulding, finishing up his first year, it is an awesome opportunity. “Helping as a mentor in general, you grow as an individual,” he said. “The flexible hours on campus are an advantage over working outside.”
As Gavilan moves into the Guided Pathway framework, student support is one of the pillars. “Peer mentors are already doing that,” said Shook, plus creating opportunities to expand support. Students enrolled in Gavilan Promise work with peer mentors through the entire year.
“For me personally, it is as life-changing as the students we are helping,” said Bryanna Gilges. “I have gained more self-confidence, learned more about my college, learned as I helped others, and I get to work with an amazing team.”
Tina Lemmon, who will graduate in May and transfer to CSUMB, expressed sadness about leaving. “I was a business major when I started at Gavilan,” she said. “I changed my major to social sciences because of my involvement with Peer Mentors.”
Elizabeth Williams describes the new mentors as the legacy the team has been building. “Peer mentoring goes beyond academics and spills into the quality of your own life.”
Interested in working on campus and building the Peer Mentor legacy? Apply at
• https://www.collegecentral.com/Gavilan, then
• Select Search – My School’s Jobs
• Under View Jobs by Job Type, select Student Employment
• Click Apply Online or Upload Resume
• Contact Ryan Shook for more information