A New Approach to Training and Development of Peer Mentors
at the 32nd Annual Conference on the First-Year Experience
Patricia Micks, Senior Program Coordinator for the First-Year Experience Office, and Lisa Valdez, First-year Interest Groups program coordinator, presented their methods of training FIG mentors at a national conference on the First-Year Experience this weekend. Their proposal was selected from 490 submissions.
FIG mentors assist first-year students with the transition from high school to college academically, socially, emotionally, and developmentally. The program provides first-year students with the tools and resources they need to be successful college students, and mentors play a vital role in the success of the enrolled students. By getting students acclimated early to what it means (and takes) to be a successful college student, they are more able to find their way to being successful college graduates. Students who serve as mentors are exceptional undergraduate students who guide first-semester students, grouped into First-year Interest Groups, or FIGs, through the challenges and adventures of college life.
Students interested in being mentors go through an application and interview process, and those selected register for a weekly training course that improves leadership skills and fosters group discussion on group management strategies, conflict management, and group dynamics. FIG mentors lead study groups, organize dinners and Austin area outings, and participate in campus events such as Longhorn Saturday and Gone to Texas, typically spending around five hours a week with their groups.
Mentor training is offered as a one-hour credit course (UGS 104). In the spring of 2012, the First-Year Experience office re-evaluated what mentors were being taught, reinventing and expanding on topics and adding new ones. Current training focuses on improving leadership skills in order to give mentors the resources they need to lead a group of first-year students through a successful first semester, as well as reviews of campus resources and tips for planning a seminar. All mentors are required to present on a pre-selected topic during the training class, in the hopes of giving them the opportunity to work on their presentation skills. Readings and discussion on Student Development Theory and Millennials were also added to provide mentors with a better understanding of who mentors are as students, and a better understanding of the incoming freshman class.
First-year Interest Groups
A FIG is a cohort of up to 25 first-year students who develop community by taking two to four course together. Students get to know classmates by attending a one-hour weekly seminar lead by a peer mentor and staff facilitator, where they discuss issues they encounter as first-year students, including study strategies, social opportunities and issues, and campus life. Mentors are hired and trained for all FIGs by the First-Year Experience Office. The First-Year Experience Office works closely with each college or school to choose the cluster of classes for each FIG and to make mentor assignments for each academic year.
The cornerstone of the FIG program is the weekly one-hour seminar. Mentors are expected to lead this session every week, along with a staff facilitator (usually an academic advisor or student affairs professional).