Amanda Suarez recalls attempting to navigate the Columbia bureaucracy as a first-year and “feeling like there was a lack of support.” But she turned to some upperclassmen for guidance, and, she said, “I learned a lot of things from my peers that I wouldn’t have known otherwise.”
Now Suarez, CC ’14, is one of the inaugural set of peer advisers in the Center for Student Advising and working to ease new students’ transitions into college academics.
“It is great that there will always be someone there to help make the transition from high school to college smoother,” Assistant Dean of Advising Michael Dunn said. “It is even better when that certain someone has been in those same well-worn shoes not so long ago.”
The six Columbia College students and two School of Engineering and Applied Science students have become well-versed in the University’s academic policies and procedures to supplement their own classroom experiences, peer adviser Jennifer Bai, CC ’13, said in an email.
Bai said that she “wanted to become involved because I know life at Columbia isn’t always easy, so it’s important to know that there are people here who have your back and are rooting for you.”
The idea of peer advising originated in a Spectator column last fall by Jared Odessky, CC ’15 and Columbia College Student Council’s vice president for communications. He said last semester the notion was born “amidst the discussions of community-building on campus.”
CSA also implemented the program in response to a two-and-a-half-year internal review of the CSA published in April. One of the biggest concerns CSA is addressing is improving communication with first-years. Program directors have tried to make the advisers representative of the larger student population, reflecting the three-to-one CC-to-SEAS ratio.
“Peer advisers must be Columbia juniors or seniors who have energy, enthusiasm, diverse experiences, and, above all, a willingness to give back to their community,” said Katherine Cutler, director of communications for the Division of Student Affairs.
Underclassmen said they thought the program could only benefit students who availed themselves of it. Juniors and seniors “have a lot more experience with everything, so definitely it could a guiding presence for new people coming in,” James Lin, CC ’15, said.
While the number of students who paid the peer advisers a visit has dropped off slightly since the New Student Orientation Program ended, the student and faculty advisers are still thinking how they can improve the program.
“While the turnout hasn’t been as strong as it was during NSOP, we have been thinking of new ways to increase it and new ways for the program to move forward,” Will Hughes, CC ’13 and a peer adviser, said.
“There are always ways to make this program even better,” Dunn said. “For a better peer advising program means a better Columbia experience for the student body as a whole.”
Jeremy Budd and Qiuyun Tan contributed reporting.