Peer Mentoring and growth from the experience

 

Jessica Singh QC ’13 and Jim Stellar

 

Jessica was a student in my course last Spring. We have had a few very illuminating conversations about a peer mentoring program that we have at Queens College to help by using students to counsel and speak to students.  It is really a mix of in-house internship and service.  Here Jess writes about that point in the context of other experiences she has had that are similar and about the idea of networking.

 

As I mentioned, I would like to share my experience working as a peer mentor at the New Community College (NCC) in the CUNY system. To start off I heard of this opportunity from a fellow peer counselor at Queens College. They were involved at NCC and forwarded us the application for the position.

 

From day one at NCC I was extremely excited. Our training consisted of a four day week in which we did a lot of team work building exercises as well as learn about unique aspects of the college. When convocation day came I was thrilled to be a part of the grand opening of the college. With the media and incoming students there, the New York Public Library was filled with excitement and positive energy. As for me, I felt great. I was excited and knew I was in the right place. It was around that time I thought to myself, hey higher education may be the place for me. I like the environment, I like the nature of the work and I get to work with students - kind of a complete package. Although I truly want to go into high school guidance counseling right now, I can definitely picture myself pursuing a doctorate in higher education administration later on in life. Sort of like my experiences in a leadership class at Queens College where the professor shared with us in class his career time line and I thought to myself, wow we have many similar interests. It was also there where I got ideas about possible careers and jobs. So I have to say I am extremely grateful to be a peer mentor at NCC. As the rest of life, it is a journey and it can turn out that I hate working in a college but only time can tell. As for now I enjoy it very much.

Backtracking, when you and I first met I was doing volunteer work at a local hospital on Long Island in the geriatric psychiatric department. I worked with primarily dementia patients. At this point in time, I was sure I wanted to be a psychologist therefore I pursued any volunteer/internship opportunities I could. Although I was unsuccessful at attaining an internship I did land my volunteer position at the hospital. I was not discouraged, I thought it was a great start. What I did there was mostly the work the director and head of the project did not have time to do. Regardless, I was in the hospital environment, surrounded not only by psychologists but also social workers and physicians. To me it was exciting at first because it was something new, a fresh start at something, brand new name tag with a cool clip, I had my own office when I was there, I felt important etc. After about 11 months of doing this I realized that I dreaded going to the hospital. The nature of the work bored me to death and the environment was so bland and - I do not know - it just became boring. I figured out that research, at least dementia research, was not for me - it became boring, took too long and I grew impatient. The excitement had worn off and it had become “just” my volunteering thing I did during the week. Although I no longer wish to pursue clinical psychology right now, I am very grateful for this experience I had at the hospital. Had I not been there and done that I would have never known how much I do not like it! Now just imagine I had studied my butt off for the GREs, taken the psychology subject test, went through 5-7 years of graduate training, possibly countless hours in a research lab, a pre-doc, post-doc and licensing exams to finallyyyyyyyyy practice and then realize I do not enjoy the field as I thought I did. That would be horrible! There goes almost 10 years of my life! Then I would think to myself what do I do now? Do I start over? Where? How? Is it possible? Heart ache.
I cannot stress enough the value of internships and volunteer work. I am happy to be a part of this peer mentoring project because I am a real life living example of what you talk about when you discuss learning from experience. I am sure, am thankful I completed a certain internship/volunteer experience because it exposed me to exactly what I would not like to do. It is essential to learn these things early in one’s academic career so they can switch over to something they might be more inclined to do and still graduate within the four years.

 

Jess, this is terrific and very passionate.  Now can you relate back to the Peer Mentoring program at QC and how it helped you.

 

The peer counseling program at Queens College has helped me develop not only as a person but also as a useful tool for the students. During our trainings I learned about the various offices and their respective duties. I also heard of many great things that QC offers that one does not usually hear about. It is great because I can spread the word to other students on campus. I can truthfully say this program is the best experience I gained at QC because it gave me practice at counseling students which is the very field I wish to pursue. Even if one’s goal is not to become a school counselor like me there are still many practical lessons to be learned like communication skills, interpersonal skills, time management and more.

 

Notice how the same type of interaction benefits both the counseled and the one doing the counseling.  This may be particularly true in the early phases of career development, although the senior JS points out that after almost 35 years of meeting with students as a professor, he finds the experience highly positive and highly informative, particularly now on issues of experiential learning.  One point that they younger JS makes is that the experience of counseling, particularly starting as a peer counselor at QC turned out to be the field she wants to enter so that very much of the experience doing it as a peer is relevant.  In earlier posts, we had written about the substantial and authentic requirements of a good internship, but that ignores what the student brings to the experience.  Not only must they be at the right stage of self-efficacy so they can handle whatever is the internship, but the relevance makes impact higher and that is the point of both a substantial and an authentic experience.  Here, we would say higher impact is right at the “other lobe” level of the brain and that the learning at a cognitive level about the important practices and theories of counseling is deeper and broader because of the strong emotional “other lobe” engagement which tells the student that this activity is important to them.  Now, we only need to figure out in higher education how to make more and more of these high-impact practices in internships happen.