Near-Peer Mentor Program Builds Community on College Campuses

The Prep for Prep Undergraduate Affairs team introduced the Near-Peer Mentor Program in the 2021-2022 academic year at Amherst, Cornell, and Yale. The program pairs undergraduate students (mentees), usually in their freshman or sophomore year, with upperclassmen (mentors). 
Thompson Uwanomen (P9 XXVIII) became a mentor his junior year at Yale and mentored Courtney Li (XXXVI) and Adia Guthrie (XXVII). It's a program he feels would have been beneficial to him in his first year. "There are a lot of things I wish I would have known going into school that I want other students to know beforehand." For Thompson, a mentor not only introduces their mentees to academic resources and extra-curriculars, but builds confidence in them as students.

Courtney joined the Near-Peer Mentor Program as a mentee in her sophomore year. With her first year of college heavily impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, she missed many of the introductory opportunities usually in place for first-year students. "It was very difficult to get my footing and feel comfortable in the academic setting, so being able to talk to someone about that who also understood, but had some better insight on how to get past that was really nice." 

"There's a lot out there that you won't know about if you try to go through the process alone," says Adia, who joined the program as a freshman. "College, to me, always seemed like a really daunting experience. I wanted to apply [to the Near-Peer Mentor Program], not only to stay connected with Prep, but to have new connections to this community— especially with other people of color." 

The application process for mentors and mentees is simple—a questionnaire submitted via Google form. The Undergraduate Affairs team does their best to match mentors with mentees with similar interests and fields of study. Thompson, Adia, and Courtney are all pre-med students, and Courtney and Thompson are both a part of dance groups on campus. 

Mentors attend virtual sessions with Undergraduate Affairs Officers at the start of the school year to learn communication skills. Mentees set the pace, meeting as often as they need or would like. Having a Prep mentor means that there is someone else who understands the Prep Journey. Though there may be mentorship programs available on some college campuses, the Prep experience is a unique one. "There's a lot of background of where we come from that doesn't need explaining," says Courtney. Adia adds, "I'm heard in a way that some people may not be able to hear me since we didn't come from the same place." 

The program creates new bonds within the Prep community. At the end of the 2021 fall semester, Thompson connected with two other Yale Near-Peer mentors and their mentees for a pizza party during finals week. "It was like a little Prep family on campus," says Thompson. "Now I feel like I have a sub-family I can always fall back on." 

"The program is helping people feel supported and more connected to Prep on campus in a genuine way," says Director of Undergraduate Affairs Leslie Francois (P9 XXI). "Hearing from mentees that they wanted to continue on with their mentors was a real highlight heading into this year, in addition to adding one more school—Wesleyan. My hope is that the program can continue to generate interest and momentum as we figure out how to make it sustainable across multiple years."

This article originally appeared in the 2022 Annual Report.
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