The year 2020 has taught us many things—most importantly, to expect the unexpected and never take human connection for granted. From maintaining a six-foot separation at Starbucks to tuning in to class via Zoom, all students have faced navigating the “new normal” on campus. First-year students, however, also face the additional challenge of adjusting to campus life itself.
Brooke Barnett, Dean of the College of Communication (CCOM), sought ways to ease this challenge and over the summer connected with Lecturer in Journalism and Internship Director Scott Bridge ’82, MS ’91 to establish a Peer Mentoring Program within CCOM. “The power of peer relationships is pretty clear in higher education literature,” says Barnett.
Peer-mentoring has been ingrained in Butler’s campus culture since its founding, but with the new formalized process, first-year students are assigned a mentor before arriving on campus in the fall. Similarities like major and hometown are primary considerations when pairing mentors and first-year students. Pairs are encouraged to meet as it makes sense for their schedules and to discuss with one another a range of topics—from which courses to take each semester to general feelings about being far from home.
“It’s important to note that peer-mentors don’t take the place of academic advisors,” Bridge states, “but rather are a chance for students to have conversations with one another and develop relationships that can make the first year at Butler a more comfortable transition.”
Bridge invited students in their second or third year to serve as mentors based on factors like their academic performance, internship experiences, and past involvement in other college activities. Students who chose to become mentors engaged in training modules to provide them with knowledge needed to navigate conversations with their mentee. These modules focused on diversity and inclusion, sexual harassment, and Butler’s Career and Professional Success (CaPS) department.
It’s not uncommon for these pre-assigned mentor/mentee relationships to transform into natural, lasting friendships. This was the case for junior Journalism student Francie Wilson and her mentee, Abby Fostveit. For the first six weeks of the semester, the two met outside of Starbucks for a socially distanced coffee. “We would chat for about an hour a week just about anything from professors I’ve had good relationships with to Spanish language resources,” Wilson says. “Now we just touch base on Zoom and chat about life.”
Bridge looks forward to rolling out a CCOM Professional Mentorship Program in January that will match third-year students with a recent Butler graduate in their desired career field. “CCOM isn’t the only college formalizing a mentorship program,” says Bridge.
The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (LAS), for example, conducts department-based Peer Mentoring Programs. Professor of Anthropology and Folklore Tom Mould explains that his department’s first-year students were paired with a junior or senior, and relationships were established before students got to campus. These LAS mentors help mentees prepare for exams, connect with on-campus organizations, and meet other students with shared interests. Pairs also enjoyed fun, festive activities this semester. “We organized events such as a scavenger hunt around campus and pumpkin carving for Halloween, all of which could be done outside, masked, and socially distanced,” says Mould.
Whether mentor/mentee pairs meet one-on-one through socially distanced events or virtually, the University’s formalized Peer Mentoring Program serves students in the Butler community in extremely valuable ways. The connections built through the Peer Mentoring Program can help students recognize the “home away from home” that is Butler University—even in the unprecedented days of 2020.
Photo: Francie Wilson (left) and Abby Fostveit (right)