By: Michelle Gomez, Staff Writer
SFU is notorious for being a commuter campus where sad students come to school, attend their lectures, and leave with their heads down. It can be especially daunting to find a place to fit in and make friends during first year. Most students are coming to campus straight from high school, where they have had the same group of friends that they have seen every day for the past few years. Going through such a transition can be stressful, and most incoming students are not used to having to put themselves out there to meet people.
The Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) Connections Peer Mentor Program attempts to fill this gap by helping new students meet new people while giving them mentors to count on throughout their first year. The program pairs up new students (mentees) with a more experienced student (mentor) to offer support, resources, or just a friendly face in the halls. It’s been running since Fall 2015.
Brian Fox, student engagement coordinator of FASS and the initiator of this program, explains a bit more about it in an interview with The Peak. For the first three years that the program was running, new students could sign up online and in the first week of school they would be paired up with a mentor – who are volunteers that apply, get interviewed, and go through training.
Having had a difficult first year, I decided to become a mentor in my second year so I could help incoming students avoid my mistakes. It was a very positive experience for me, and I still talk to many of the people I have met through this program, including my mentees and other mentors! I would highly recommend that first years take full advantage of this program, and to return the favor by becoming mentors themselves later on.
Fox notices in particular that a lot of students come back and get involved with the SFU community in different ways after being a mentee. Whether it’s volunteering as a mentor their next year or getting involved in their departmental student union, mentees often return for that sense of community and to give back to the future generations of FASS students.
“There are lots of ways to feel more connected to this place,” Fox sums up. “Giving back will make your experience better.”
During the first few years, each student who signed up would meet their mentee either in a one-on-one meeting or at the welcome event held in September. Fox notes that the problem with this is that since students had to actively sign up for the program, they weren’t reaching as many students as they potentially could be, and they especially weren’t reaching the students who needed it the most.
For the first time this year, all FASS students who attended Welcome Day were automatically paired up with a Welcome Leader, who was also automatically assigned to be their peer mentor for the upcoming year. Students who were unable to attend Welcome Day also had the opportunity to sign up online to be included in the program.
Now that all Welcome Day students are automatically signed up for the peer mentor program, every new student gets to meet their mentor at least once, in a no-pressure environment, and it lets them know that they have someone they can always ask questions or hang out with. The program also hosts many activities throughout the semester that mentees and mentors are encouraged to attend, such as smoothie parties, outdoor movies, dodgeball tournaments, and more.
Fox explains that while all the mentors are trained to help their mentees and to direct them to the appropriate resources, the program is not only about that. A mentor is someone who new students can connect with, build a relationship with, and build a friendship with. It is not only about reaching out when you have a problem or need something, but also to have someone to say hi to in the halls, to meet up with to chat, or to do fun activities with when you’re stressed out. It’s about building a community.
Fox explains that many arts students do not choose a major for their first couple of years, and so it is often hard to find a community when you do not have a specific department to get involved with. It was for this reason that they chose to do one large mentor program for all of FASS, rather than for the individual departments. Not only does the program help orient new students and give them a sense of community, but it allows students to meet others from different departments and explore their academic options.
Fox’s vision is for every arts student to be connected to someone “where they actually feel like they can use this person as a resource and have a connection with them.”
“There are a lot of students who feel isolated and all it would take is to ask for help once or to say yes once. It’s about mental health and that stigma around feeling isolated. It is totally OK to feel isolated here . . . When we are able to connect new students with older students who already have a network at SFU, it provides a sense of community and connectedness. It helps students live in the moment.”