One click to live support, and friendly faces!by Jan Janes on Jan 15, 2021
The Welcome Center on the Gavilan College campus may be temporarily closed during the pandemic, but the “Virtual Welcome Center” is wide open and with Peer Mentors actively assisting students.
Peer Mentors use new technology to guide students through the challenges of college.
Now in its 10th year, the program trains students as Peer Mentors to guide others through the challenging college experience. Want to know how to access Banner? Apply for FAFSA and financial aid? Locate your ASGC card? Or just about anything else? Ask a Peer Mentor.
Peer Mentors Play as a Team
“We want students to know we are here for them,” said Cynthia Matory. “A lot of them feel they are the only ones going through this, and we want them to know they are not alone. We can relate and identify, because we are students, too.”
As a second year mentor, Matory and her peers support students by listening. They share their own student challenges. All Peer Mentors have training in all the support services offered at the college.
The team experienced some intense on-the-job training back in March, working to immediately adapt in-person services at the Welcome Center. “We learned what Zoom is, how to share screens and create breakout rooms to help students,” said Matory.
Lani Ballard, finishing her first year as a Peer Mentor, sees the program as a great way to get to know other students and understand the ins and outs of college.
“We triage students’ issues and send them to the service that will solve the problem,” she said. “A stepping stone.” She is aware, from student stories, of people in customer service or positions of power who can be condescending. She sees students shy away, because they are afraid of asking stupid questions. “I work to be a good listener and help students navigate. If left to themselves, finding solutions can be difficult.”
Alexis Robertson, who is also finishing her first year in the program, noted that it can be easier for students to talk with people the same age. “We are here to help in any way to make college easier,” she said. “Every time someone comes to the virtual Zoom Welcome Center or Cranium Café, we can look up their information.”
Peer Mentors also are assigned a list of students just entering Gavilan. “We make contact, and keep in touch with them through the semester,” said Robertson.
Peer Mentors Don’t Quit – They Graduate!
“We are all dealing with the same stressful things in college,” said Brandilee Estrada. “We go in head first, find the right services and solutions that empower students to be successful.”
Finishing her second year as a Peer Mentor, Estrada described the confidence she gained. “If I weren't graduating, I wouldn't be leaving Peer Mentors. This is the best job you could have while going to school.”
She will transfer in January. Like many students, the path had some pitfalls.
“My chosen school denied admission because my units were still in progress,” she said. “I was devastated.” Estrada used some of the strategic skills learned to negotiate a refund of her deposit, pointing out that the terms of denial weren't stipulated.
“I wanted the whole ‘college experience’ on my own in a metro area,” said Estrada. “But I’m also big on family and live with my parents and siblings.” Another family member expressed concern about moving far away and the big city risks.
Estrada researched local CSUs, found classes that fit her path, paid the fees and was accepted into CSUMB, where she will pursue a BA in Behavioral and Social Sciences.
“Now that we’re in pandemic mode, it’s all about focusing on my career path,” said Estrada, “My education will be the success for my future.”
Another two-year Peer Mentor, Yevgeniy Malyasin participated in the rapid response adapting in-person services to online. The Welcome Center became virtual, using Zoom, and Cranium Café was set up across multiple student services.
“We had to set it all up and figure out how to refer students to services in a limited amount of time,” said Malyasin.
Cranium Café is a platform where students can share screens, and Peer Mentors can transfer them to other student services. “The virtual Zoom Welcome Center is more interactive, they can see I’m a real person,” he said. “I always let students know they can come back here using either service or text.”
Malyasin will transfer in January, and discovered he was not accepted for Spring 2021 into his first school of choice.
“It was a weird situation, because they did accept me for Fall 2021,” he said. “But I didn't want to wait an extra semester.” He researched other CSUs, locating two schools offering Spring 2021 acceptance once he completed statistics.
“I applied and was accepted by San Francisco State,” said Malyasin. He will pursue a major in Physical Science in the STEM area and a minor in Communication Studies. “I would continue to work here if I could. I hope to stay strong for two more years, like I did here at Gav.”
New Peer Mentors Sign in Their First Week
“Last semester, I was stuck. All last semester I had roadblocks,” said Marialuisa Dueñas. “I connected with the Welcome Center and was in every office asking for help. My counselors definitely guided me to the paths I found.”
She started her Peer Mentor position the first week in January 2021.
“I almost gave up my first semester,” she said. “Because of the support, it helped me stay. Just by going through that, I want to help other students not get stuck, or get unstuck.”
“The first time I attended college, I also got stuck,” said Ginny Hendersen, a returning student who first attended 20 years ago. “Now that I’m back, I can use all the student resources.”
“We understand how crazy it is to navigate a fully virtual, online education,” said Hendersen. “You can click on the Welcome Center or Cranium Café, get answers to your questions, and talk to a real person, a student like you.”
The Peer Mentor position offers the opportunity to help other students, and there are job openings available.
Welcome Center and Peer Mentor Program are Recruiting New Staff
Ryan Shook, Student Life/Peer Mentor Coordinator, is recruiting to hire two more new Peer Mentors. It is a part-time job working from home during the pandemic. Peer Mentors have flexible hours scheduled around their own classes and work 15-20 hours a week. Unlike other college jobs, Peer Mentors work through the summer.
For 10 years, the Welcome Center has opened its doors to assist Gavilan students navigate the college experience. If you need help and want to talk with a Peer Mentor, reach them at the Welcome Center. If you want to join the Peer Mentor team, email Ryan Shook or apply online here.