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How to Be an Effective Peer Mentor

Updated on July 14, 2017
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The Governor's Academy is an award-winning high school engineering program with a mentors program for all incoming freshman students.

Congratulations!  You're a peer mentor!  Now what do you do?  Here's how to make a new student's transition smoother.
Congratulations! You're a peer mentor! Now what do you do? Here's how to make a new student's transition smoother. | Source

You're a Peer Mentor: Now What?

Remember what it feels like to be new in a school or program? You walked around with a "deer in the headlights" look. You got lost trying to find your classes and even the bathroom. You had a boatload of questions but no idea where to get the answers.

All that is behind you now. Soon, however, there will be new students arriving, and they'll experience the same struggles you had. As a peer mentor, you can help ease their transition.

Remember What It Feels like to Be New?

New students may feel overwhelmed by change.  Make them feel welcome.
New students may feel overwhelmed by change. Make them feel welcome. | Source

What Is a Peer Mentor?

Peer mentors are more experienced students who provide leadership to incoming students. They offer support, attention, and kindness. Specifically, peer mentors

  • are willing to invest the time and energy to reach out to new students
  • demonstrate empathy with new students' concerns and
  • serve as role models and a source of trusted information.

Here are a dozen tips on how you can be a great peer mentor.

A peer mentor is a role model who provides leadership to new students by establishing and maintaining an ongoing connection. He or she is a trusted source of information, support and encouragement.

— Governor's Academy for Engineering Studies

Peer Mentors are Role Models

Are you smart, kind and willing to share your knowledge and experience with a new student?  You might make a good peer mentor!
Are you smart, kind and willing to share your knowledge and experience with a new student? You might make a good peer mentor! | Source

Qualities of a Good Mentor

Peer mentors are experienced students who serve as leaders and role models for new students. Respected by faculty and other students, they should have a positive, can-do attitude and be willing to share their experience.

Good peer mentors have solid interpersonal and communication skills and are able to motivate others. They can be matched up with new students randomly or based on similarity factors such as:

  • demeanor/personality
  • extracurricular activities or hobbies
  • career interests or
  • demographics.

Peer Mentors Help New Students Navigate the Transition

New students have a boatload of questions.  Peer mentors can help them navigate the transition by providing trusted information and encouragement.
New students have a boatload of questions. Peer mentors can help them navigate the transition by providing trusted information and encouragement. | Source

Establish an Ongoing Connection

Regardless of how mentor and new students are paired, it's important to establish similarities and build an ongoing relationship of trust. As a peer mentor, take the lead by doing the following:

Don't wait for your mentee to reach out to you. Take the lead by introducing yourself to him or her early on. Share some background information about yourself and provide your mentee(s) with multiple ways to contact you: cell phone, email address, Instagram or other social media accounts, etc.

Do you have more than one mentee? Introduce them and encourage them to connect with one another!

Express genuine interest in getting to know your mentee. Understand his or her background, career and personal interests, and what motivates them. Ask open-ended questions (i.e., those that require a sentence as a response, rather than one or two words).

Convey energy and excitement. Communicate enthusiasm about what you enjoy regarding the program/school. Let your mentee know that the you're glad he or she is here.

Be responsive and available. Reach out to your mentee regularly, especially during early transition time. Ask how s/he is doing, what questions s/he has, if there is anything that s/he needs help on, etc.

Be creative and flexible with how you communicate with your mentee.

protégé (ˈprōtəˌZHā) or mentee (menˈtē )

—a person who is guided, counseled, and supported by an older and more experienced or influential person

Peer Mentors Are Involved and Connected

Incoming students often have concerns about whether they'll find friends in their new school or program.  Each of us has a need to belong and be accepted.
Incoming students often have concerns about whether they'll find friends in their new school or program. Each of us has a need to belong and be accepted. | Source

Ideas for Connecting with Your Mentee (Or Protégé)

 
 
 
have lunch together on occasion
phone calls
brief in-person check-ins
Facetime/Skype
social media
texts
email
group chats (if you have more than one mentee)
card or note of encouragement
Great mentors effectively combine in-person, electronic, and other strategies for building and maintaining a relationship with their mentee.

Peer Mentors Bridge Uncertainty with Answers

Peer mentoring thrives on early and frequent interactions.  Don't wait for your mentee to contact you.  Take the lead by reaching out to him or her.
Peer mentoring thrives on early and frequent interactions. Don't wait for your mentee to contact you. Take the lead by reaching out to him or her. | Source

Provide Trusted Information

Give truthful opinions and accurate information. Your mentee is counting on you to be a trusted resource.

Answer your mentee's questions. You're not expected to know everything. If there's a question you cannot answer or a concern that you cannot address, know when to seek help.

Be a coach, not a crutch. Is your mentee having problems with a school project? Offer emotional support and coaching on how to think through challenges, but don’t do the mentee’s school work for them.

Peer Mentors Are a Reliable Information Resource

Peer mentors provide useful and practical information by answering new students' questions.  They help new students feel less overwhelmed.
Peer mentors provide useful and practical information by answering new students' questions. They help new students feel less overwhelmed. | Source

Offer Support and Encouragement

Be a positive role model. Be willing to share personal examples about your mistakes, set-backs, and failures as well as your successes. Describe what you learned from your experience.

Lend an ear. Sometimes all a person wants is a sounding board. Listen. Don’t always rush in with feedback or advice.

Be a confidence booster. Build your mentee’s confidence by highlighting his or her successes and achievements.

Peer Mentors Are Enthusiastic Supporters

A little encouragement goes a long way.
A little encouragement goes a long way. | Source

Practical Tip for Peer Mentors

If your mentee seems reluctant to ask questions, consider saying, "Here are the types of questions I had when I was in your shoes ... " or "Here are the questions that new students often have ... ." This might spark a conversation.

Typical Questions and Concerns That New Students Face

Social
Practical
Academic
Will I be able to fit in and make friends with other students here?
How will I find my way around school without getting lost?
Can I handle the challenge of the classes?
Will I have someone to eat lunch with?
How will I get to the right class on time?
What are some good techniques for handling the workload? What is the time commitment involved with this program? How will I balance academics and other areas of my life?
How do I maintain connections with my old friends? Is this important?
Where are the bathrooms? Is there enough time to go to the restroom between classes?
What are the teachers like?
What are some good ways for a shy person like me to make friends in a new environment?
How/where do I … buy tickets for football games, check my grades on-line, etc.?
How and where can I get help if I’m having trouble in a class?
 
 
What clubs or activities should I join? Is it better to “hang back” or “jump right in”?
 
 
Will I experience special pressure to prove myself because I’m female … or minority … or homeschooled or ___ ? How will I handle my own expectations and those of others?
Each school or program has its own questions. Above are typical issues raised by incoming students of the Governor's Academy for Engineering Studies. Our Peer Mentoring Program helps them to adjust to a new high school and challenging academic progr
Be a strong leader by representing the school or program well to new students.
Be a strong leader by representing the school or program well to new students. | Source

Peer Mentors Should Rely on One Another, Too

To obtain the most meaningful and effective experience, peer mentors should maintain communication with fellow mentors. Rely on one another for ideas on how to engage your mentee. Consider collaborating with other peer mentors by meeting together informally and introducing your mentees to one another. Shared experiences and relationships formed early on create strong, common bonds.

Everyone Was New at Some Time

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Peer mentors set an example for transitioning from new students to upperclassmen to graduates.  Give your mentee a good start by being a great peer mentor.
Peer mentors set an example for transitioning from new students to upperclassmen to graduates.  Give your mentee a good start by being a great peer mentor.
Peer mentors set an example for transitioning from new students to upperclassmen to graduates. Give your mentee a good start by being a great peer mentor. | Source

Top 10 List: How to Thrive in Any Challenging Academic Program

More experienced students can also join together to develop a unified top 10 list on how to succeed in the program or school. This list provides a consistent message to incoming students no matter who their mentor is. It can also be used by mentor and mentees as a conversation starter.

Following is an example of a top 10 advice list based on the experience of our student leaders at the Governor's Academy for Engineering Studies.

  1. Read the rubric. It sets performance expectations.
  2. Get involved in the school. Clubs and sports expose yo­­­u to people you might not normally meet. Connect with other students early and often by getting involved in extracurricular activities.
  3. Take risks. Be willing to take risks by trying new or different classes or activities. You never know what you might excel at or enjoy!
  4. Be curious. Ask lots of questions, then listen to the answers.
  5. Continually develop your teamwork skills. Choose group members who complement your strengths by not choosing friends. Clarify each member’s roles and divide tasks. Compromise and collaborate. Learn how to manage conflict constructively. Provide honest feedback and learn how to accept it, too.
  6. Manage your time well. Don’t procrastinate.
  7. Learn from failure. Some of the most successful projects and ideas are born out of trial and error.
  8. Ask for help when you need it. It’s not a sign of weakness.
  9. Keep building those communication skills. Whether you’re writing papers, giving presentations, or working on a team, you need to be able to influence as well as inform.
  10. Understand that you’re not alone. Don’t be intimidated by the rigor of our program. Realize that you are talented and determined enough to be here, and your classmates have the same anxieties as you do. Lean on them for moral support.

© 2015 Governor's Academy for Engineering Studies

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