A new peer advising program for General Studies students is aiming to bolster resources for students looking for help.
The GS Peer Advising Program, which launched during the New Student Orientation Program, is currently in a pilot phase with five paid student advisors.
Peer advisors help students answer questions ranging from campus life, academics, social problems, and college transitions. They also can provide referrals to other resources on campus.
“If you’re thinking about taking this professor, this class, this major, they’re great front-line responders,” Ivonne Rojas, assistant dean of students, said. “It’s just one piece of the overall advising picture for a GS student.”
GS Dean of Students Tom Harford oversees the program and started the program after engaging with students last semester. Rojas runs the day-to-day logistics.
Edgardo Martinez, GS ’16, and GSSC vice president of policy, started talking about the possibility of creating a peer advising program last year. He then took the idea to the deans and made it happen.
Martinez said he thinks getting advice from peers is especially important for the many GS students who have not been in school for a long time.
“Especially if you’re older, you’ve probably been out of school for a while, so you want to know from students who have been doing it for a bit,” Martinez said. “I consider it a success already because we’re actually being utilized.”
The five peer advisors are GS students who completed training before the start of this semester. The advisors vary by age, background, family situation, and major in order to account for the diversity in GS.
“What’s happening is, since you’re here in the lounge, people come and they’re like, ‘Oh wait, you’re a peer advisor! Can I ask you about how to approach foreign languages and whatnot?’” peer advisor Amna Pervez, GS ’15, said.
Pervez added that because GS students have often taken lots of time off before coming to the school, the transition back into student life can feel daunting.
“You sometimes come from a community college, like I did. And you come here and you think, ‘Holy cow. I am totally not prepared for this place,’” she said. “So having somebody who’s kind of walked that path already as a resource for you” is helpful.
“Not all our peer advisors have had perfectly smooth times at Columbia,” Rojas said. “The point is to make sure they’re coming with different perspectives and diverse experiences, so that they can help every single GS student with a range of questions and challenges and situations.”
Rojas is looking to expand the program to 10 advisors, and implement an official interview process and training program this spring. She also hopes to increase awareness of the program.
Last fall, the Center for Student Advising initiated a peer advising pilot program for Columbia College and School of Engineering and Applied Science students, which was intended to supplement the advice students receive from their academic advisors.
“For me, the peer advisor program really speaks to how actively engaged and involved GS students are and how willing to sit down and share our experiences with our community,” Hannah Germond, president of GSSC, said. “It has the full support of GSSC, and we’re absolutely thrilled that it’s up and running.”
Some GS students felt that a similar resource would be useful to help answer their questions.
“With the academic advisor, you’re very restricted on what you ask,” Ian Murphy, GS ’15, said. “I had to go to a museum already, and I had no idea where it was. … I got lost on the trains, and it would’ve helped to have somebody to bounce off of to find out the best way to get somewhere.”
Administrators are collecting feedback from student life surveys and conversations with students to gauge how receptive students are to the program before expanding it next semester.
Due to their varying ages and experiences, students and administrators feel that GS students might be even more hesitant than traditional college students to ask for help from administrators and faculty members.
“When you’re starting at certain ages, you’re shy to talk to the faculty, and it’s easier to talk to peers who are going through the same experiences as you are,” Luis Leiva, GS ’15, said.
While the GS student body is diverse, the program aims to address the individual issues of all students.
“There is no traditional way to be a non-traditional student,” Rojas said.
The peer advisors hold weekly office hours in the GS Student Lounge in Lewisohn Hall. Each advisor is also available one hour every week for private discussions in the Baer Room in Lewisohn. Students can also contact the five advisors at any time via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Elena Nicolaou and Ben Sheng contributed reporting.