As I stumbled through the doors of the Hunter West Building last fall, I was met with a barrage of students from all different walks of life. Sounds of laughter and music echoed through the skywalks as people scurried about, trying to find their classes. To any incoming freshman, even one from a large high school, this sight was enough to satisfy my wildest dreams about college. Finally, I was past the years of pre-determined class schedules and high school cliques and approaching four years of independence and self-discovery.
However, getting acclimated to a CUNY is a different kind of college experience. Hunter is widely regarded as a commuter school so at times, many students have found it difficult to form lasting connections amongst their peers. Many students simply go to class and then go home.
Within the past couple of years, Macaulay Hunter has enacted a peer mentoring program that helps address this problem.“I saw a hole in the [Macaulay] program; there was nothing in place to help students with the transition,” said Melissa Schwartz, academic specialist and the coordinator of the Peer Mentor Program. “Peer mentoring was a good option for freshmen to connect to the program and upperclassmen, while giving mentors the opportunity to sharpen their leadership and team building skills. I knew nothing about peer mentoring; I just learned along the way through networking and research.” Schwartz is a key component to the program’s continued development and success; she runs the behind-the-scenes operations, plans out monthly meetings, events, and assists the mentors and mentees with any issues that arise.
The program helps freshmen better adjust to the crazy world that is Hunter. It consists of 20 or so academically and professionally distinguished sophomores, juniors and seniors who are matched to freshmen who share similar interests and aspirations as them. These individuals are from a vast array of majors ranging from psychology and biochemistry, to political science and sociology. Among them are aspiring professors, researchers, lawyers, computer scientists, physicians and artists. The peer mentoring program draws its strength from the unique experiences and invaluable advice these students can provide to incoming freshmen.
On the Hunter website, this program is described as working to “help freshmen transition to their first year of college; facilitate navigation of academic departments, social clubs and groups, and the Brookdale living experience; help students explore academic opportunities such as fellowships and internships; help freshmen prepare for their postgraduate professional goals; and allow further development of the mentors’ leadership and management skills.”
The first time I met my mentor to discuss my career and personal goals with her, I remember feeling a sense of relief and truly feeling like I fit into the Macaulay Hunter community. She sat with me in the Hunter lounge for nearly three hours, telling me all about things she pursued throughout her four years. She gave me honest advice and talked to me in a manner that a friend would. It truly eased any tensions I had about the transition process. It was also that meeting that made me truly appreciate the value of the program and want to become a mentor myself.
The relationship between mentor and mentee is definitely not one-sided. It involves a balance of communication on either end, as well as a mutual responsibility to keep track of one another’s lives.“The peer mentoring program at Hunter is an opportunity for growth on behalf of both mentors and mentees,” my fellow mentor, Nomon, remarked. “As a mentor, I meet with my mentees to discuss their plans regarding coursework, majors, life, and or extracurricular activities. If I don’t have the answer they seek, I can help direct them to departments or advisors who can offer more specialized advice. I also email them updates about interesting events happening throughout the Macaulay and Hunter community. By doing so, the peer mentors have the wonderful opportunity of being a helpful role model and friend for their mentees. They are [who] the first peer freshmen are often contacted by following their acceptance to Hunter.”
So far, the peer mentors have hosted a Summer Welcome Picnic at Central Park, a Macaulay Movie Night and a Welcome Dinner at the Brookdale Residence Hall Rotunda. The mentors are also working on several workshops that will happen in October involving topics like Registration and Internships/Opportunities.
My friend and fellow peer mentor, Catherine Stratis, had a lovely metaphor when asked about what the program meant to her: “A person is ether a garden or a gardener, and I think it’s safe to say we’re all gardeners and want to see our mentees blossom.” That, in essence, is at the very heart of the program. The mentors provide all the resources they can in order to let the freshman grow and thrive into the young men and women they want to be.
It has been an endlessly rewarding experience thus far, and I’m so glad to making a difference — however small — to alleviate that tough college transition. So to all the Macaulay freshmen, welcome to our fun, albeit crazy Macaulay family! There are a lot of people here who are rooting for your success, and we are excited to see all that you can accomplish!