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Mentors create connections

Student-to-student mentorship program builds community, comfort

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February 10, 2015

By Jillian Birkholz, '15

Mentor, CSB sophomore, Theresa Wenner and mentee, CSB first-year, Emily Peabody

The First Years Forward (FYF) program brings first-years and upper-class mentors together with the hope of making the transition of first-year students easier at CSB/SJU and building lasting relationships.

The program, which welcomed its first class of first-year students in the fall of 2014 is designed to get first-year students connected to the larger CSB/SJU community as soon as they arrive on campus. It was created and is led by Brian Bohman, a senior natural science major from Shoreview, Minnesota, Hannah Carlson, a junior psychology major from Vadnais Heights, Minnesota, Emma Fering, a junior psychology major from Chaska, Minnesota, and Braden McCormack, a junior philosophy major from Rosemount, Minnesota. There are 60 mentors and 90 first-year students involved in the program.

"You don't have to wait until you're a junior or senior to be successful," Carlson said. "To have these resources available to you right away when you come into college, I think, is huge."

Theresa Wenner, a sophomore biology major from Richmond, Minnesota, became a mentor to connect with other students and be more involved on campus.

"Building this friendship helps establish connections and a sense of comfort on campus," Wenner said. "Seeing a familiar face and knowing that there is someone to talk to is a great feeling. We are building a welcoming community and I look forward to all of my encounters with the FYF crew."

Mentors connect their mentees to on-campus resources like Counseling and Health Promotion, the Career Resource Center, Academic Advising, faculty members and residence assistants.

Students recognize need

Personal experience inspired students to create FYF. They want to make sure older students are making first-years feel at home on campus and giving them the resources they need to succeed.

"One of the beautiful things about the nature of the program is that from its inception until now it has been very student led," Bohman said. "It's based on the desires and the passions of students.

"That's why it's growing and taking off. This is something that students recognize the need. So it's a program designed to help students, created and run almost entirely by students."

The program also differentiates itself from other mentoring programs on campus in that it is open to all students. The mentor-mentee relationship is tailored to the unique needs and interests of the first-year student.

Nicole Koonce, a junior history major from Cedar, Minnesota, said she became a mentor to make the transition to college life a bit easier for her mentee.

"I just wanted to be there for somebody in whatever capacity they needed," Koonce said. "I wish that I could have had a mentor my first year, but now I get to take part from a different perspective."

One-on-One relationships

Mentor-mentee pairs are required to spend at least one hour together every two weeks. What they choose to do together is entirely up to them.

"For some people, that's sitting down and talking about things they're struggling with and for some people that's going to church and that's their meeting," Carlson said. "So it really depends on how they see the relationship growing and what they want out of it."

Emily Peabody, an undeclared major from Nisswa, Minnesota, typically meets with her mentor for dinner to talk about classes and things happening on campus.

"It's really fun to have a quality conversation with someone who isn't going to be constantly checking their phone or looking like they have somewhere else to be," Peabody said. "This relationship has helped me be more comfortable on campus, and has given me access to someone who has been through the things I'm going through right now."

Enrichment for all

In addition to spending time with their mentees, every two weeks a small group of mentors meets with a member of the leadership team to share experiences and learn from one another.

"I don't even know if they know it now, but I see it as them being able to grow through the program," Fering said. "They're meeting with their mentees but small group meetings are a time to reflect and see how they're growing as a person, too.

"I think hearing other people's stories and letting them share their experiences whether good or bad is helping them, too."

The shape the program has taken is not necessarily what the leadership team envisioned at the beginning of the year, but it is adapting to the needs of mentors and first-years.

"People have learned that their voice really does matter as a mentor because this program is growing," Carlson said. "It's been kind of cool to have their input on things because the four of us can only do so much. I think they feel more connected to it too because they know that this is the first year, so they're part of the development."