The transition from high school to college marks a pivotal moment in a student’s life, and the first year of college is undeniably crucial in shaping their academic and personal fulfillment. Recognizing the significance of this stage, Ball State University and institutions across the country are working diligently to enhance the first-year experience through innovative programs and best practices.

Among the various strategies employed, peer mentorship programs have emerged as one of the most influential and effective means of supporting first-year students.

The peer-mentoring program at Ball State as part of First-Year Experience began in Fall 2023 with 23 sections of the First-Year Seminar (FYS) offered. But despite being so new, Keith Norris, assistant director of First-Year Experience, has already seen positive outcomes in assisting first-year students to become a part of the Ball State community.

“The biggest benefit to the peer mentor program at Ball State is the student relationships that have been developed,” Mr. Norris said. “Within that context, students have the opportunity to do two things. One, they get to hear the stories from a student who has been through it sharing their experiences. They get to hear the successes, they get to hear the failures, and then they get to try and make connections about how things might work in their own life. Second, they get a chance to make a connection—a personal connection—with someone else at the University outside of the group they live with.”

Peer mentorship programs operate on the principle of connecting new students with experienced peers who can guide them through the challenges and opportunities that come with the transition to college life. These mentors serve as invaluable sources of advice, support, and encouragement for their mentees. The benefits of such programs extend beyond academic guidance, encompassing social integration, personal development, and fostering a sense of belonging.

“In the first-year seminar classes, we only have so much time, but we try to teach first-year students, basically, how to be a student,” said junior Jack Ashby, who serves as a peer mentor. “We also try to get students outside of the classroom as much as we can because we really want to make sure students are adapting to college life and becoming more involved on campus.”

One of the key advantages of peer mentorship is the relatability factor. New students often find it easier to connect with someone who has recently experienced the same challenges they are currently facing. Peer mentors understand the intricacies of college life, from navigating academic requirements to managing time effectively and dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that can accompany the transition. This relatability creates a unique bond between mentors and mentees, fostering a comfortable and open environment where mentees feel free to seek guidance when needed.

Blaire Hayes, a freshman Biology major, was excited about being away from home and starting a new chapter.

“I find it very beneficial to be in a new environment, surrounded by new people with different perspectives,” Ms. Hayes said. “I was anxious about my STEM classes, though, so learning about all the tutoring help available was enormously helpful. I feel like I have options if I am ever struggling or falling behind.”

first-year experience

Peer mentorship programs contribute significantly to the social integration of first-year students. Many new students grapple with feelings of isolation and homesickness as they adjust to the unfamiliar college environment. Peer mentors serve as friendly faces, introducing mentees to campus resources, clubs, and social activities, thereby facilitating a smoother transition to college life. This sense of connection and camaraderie not only eases the initial challenges but also plays a pivotal role in preventing feelings of loneliness and fostering a positive college experience.

“In the first-year seminar class, I had a friendly peer mentor (Jack) who was very approachable and a professor who made the classroom setting comfortable and welcoming,” said Ms. Hayes. “I always felt like I had someone I could talk to if I needed to.

“The walks we took around campus really helped us to get our bearings, and participating in Weeks of Welcome events was a great experience that I am glad I had.”

The benefits of the program extend beyond the mentee, as well. The student mentors also reap the benefits.

“I have seen many benefits to this peer mentor program—not only as a student but as the leader of myself,” said Mr. Ashby. “I have grown into becoming a leader here on campus and through my other jobs as well. I have other jobs on campus, and I think that this leadership experience has been a huge benefit for me.

“I try my best to help students who may be struggling with college. Being independent for the first time can be a struggle for so many. Working with students who may be having a difficult time adjusting to college and providing some insight makes me feel good that I can have a positive impact.”

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