Student Mentors Vital to First-Year Students
PAL PROGRAM ENCOURAGES FIRST YEAR STUDENTS
Tucked back in a dark corner on the first floor of the Tivoli is the office of the Peer Advocate Leader program.
The PAL program is most-easily summed up by its mission statement, which states: “promotes leadership for all students involved by matching undergraduate student leaders with first-year students.” The Sentry sat down with three mentors of the PAL program Hithu Kodicherla, Lauren Brady, and Dakota Edmonds to better understand the effect that the program has both on the mentors and mentees involved.
The students who become PALs aren’t exactly what one might expect. They’re not natural socialites, born with an effortless ability to lead and converse and a desire to help others achieve the same qualities. More often, these students are themselves former introverts with a great deal of empathy toward first-year students of the same nature.
“For my first year, I definitely stayed to myself,” Kodicherla said. “I had the commuter campus lifestyle: going to class and then going back home. The PAL program helped with its mission of getting students more engaged on campus. That was definitely something that stuck with me because if you don’t become engaged, you don’t feel connected, and when you don’t feel connected, you don’t feel like coming back.”
The prospect of a student not “coming back” is a driving force for the PAL program. Making first-year and transfer students aware of the resources available to them and the skills needed to survive college life is imperative in keeping those students from dropping out.
“It involves a lot of study sessions and getting the students used to studying in groups,” Brady said. “I also do a lot of fun events to let the stress out and let students know that they’re not by themselves. Everybody struggles with their first year and it’s important to get them in a good place for their second semester without us.”
This program, however, has proven to be more than just a benefit to mentees. PAL mentors learn from the program as well. Edmonds is also a former mentee whose experience with PALs led him to pursue a job with the program.
“What you learn in PAL are things that you don’t learn in classes,” Edmonds said. “Especially for engineering students like me, because we don’t really learn about life experience, like public speaking or just being able to go up and talk to people. PAL breaks down all of those barriers of awkwardness.”
Edmonds loves his job as a PAL. He gets giddy when he talks about it, using warm, affectionate language when describing his work.
“It’s incredibly rewarding for us as PALs because we get to be working on the ground with students, interacting with them every day,” Edmonds said.
Thus, the program’s headquarters in that dark corner of the Tivoli might be a bit misleading. What these three PALs want students to know about the program is that there’s nothing ominous about their work.
“We’re here for everybody,” Brady said. “While our primary focus is freshman and transfer students, we’re always available to help other people too. We’re not just a mysterious office in the corner. We’re nice people and we want to help.”
Above: PAL mentors help first-year students with their college transition
photo courtesy PAL Program