By Molly O'Brien-Foelsch
LEWISBURG, Pa. — "We're here to help new students transition to Bucknell and get accustomed to campus life," said Mike Tonge, Class of '12, as he sat in Bucknell University's Cultural Center Lounge with fellow student Adriana Zermeno, Class of '14.
Surrounded by flags and artifacts from around the world, the two discussed their responsibilities as peer mentors with Together Everyone Achieves More (T.E.A.M.) Peer Mentor Program, a University program that pairs upperclass men and women with first-year students from underrepresented backgrounds.
"We help first-year students deal with issues including homesickness and time management," said Zermeno. "We answer questions, point them to resources, check in with them and encourage and support them."
A win-win situation
T.E.A.M. grew out of an idea that Bucknell staff psychologist Shallary Duncan had one day about seven years ago.
"I'd trained hundreds of student leaders over nearly two decades at Bucknell," said Duncan. "I'd taught resident assistants, international orientation assistants and scholarship recipients how to become peer leaders and build a supportive campus community. It occurred to me: Wouldn't underrepresented students also benefit from a similar kind of support system?"
Duncan immediately went to work researching on mentoring programs for underrepresented students. "What I discovered in the data," she said, "is that mentoring a win-win situation. The mentors are benefited as well as the protégés."
In spring 2009, in partnership with former Multicultural Student Services director Jessica Hess, Together Everyone Achieves More (T.E.A.M.) began training student mentors how to support their scholars.
Mentors participate in eight weeks of intensive leadership training, said Vincent Stephens, director of Multicultural Student Services (MSS) and co-director, with Duncan, of T.E.A.M.
"We use a book that's a standard in the industry — Students Helping Students," said Stephens. "It introduces mentors to student development and intercultural competence. The training really gives mentors a foundation for understanding themselves so that they can help other students achieve understanding."
Mentors and scholars agree to meet at least once every other week and attend program meetings, seminars and social events. Often, scholars meet informally — not just with their assigned mentors, but with other mentors in the program.
"I want to be a big brother, provide a foundation," said Tonge.
"The scholars are like my younger siblings," said Zermeno. "Sometimes I want to step in and say 'That's completely wrong,' but I know can't really do that, because then they might feel like they can't confide in me."
"Go to office hours"
Marktil Burton '14, a Bauer Scholar from Baltimore city, was Tonge's scholar last year. He said he had lived his whole life in an urban setting and wanted to try something completely different. Bucknell's rural location and small campus community appealed to him, he said, but the change in culture was a challenge. That's where T.E.A.M. made a difference.
"Mike and the other mentors helped me get to know a lot of people on campus and loosen up," said Burton.
Fellow Bauer Scholar and Baltimore native Melissa Harrington '13 said having a mentor in her first year made it easier for her to adjust to academics at Bucknell. "My mentor told me to go to office hours with professors — that it's really important to establish those relationships," said the education major.
"She taught me that the most important resources on campus are the professors. They're experts on the subjects they teach, and they want to help you." || Meet Harrington's mentor, Nadia Sasso '11
Now Harrington mentors her own scholar, Ruby Serrano, a first-year student from Houston, Texas. "Melissa has been a great mentor," said Serrano. "She really has made me feel comfortable in knowing that throughout the year, there's at least one person I could talk to. I knew if I needed her, she would be there."
A family bond
Another scholar-turned-mentor is Patience Osei, a junior biomedical engineering major from Botswana, who said she felt like she needed someone to help her adapt not only to campus, but also to the lifestyle and culture of the U.S. "I signed up for T.E.A.M. before I ever came to Bucknell, because I believe in the benefits of getting counsel from someone," said Osei. "It worked well for me, and so I decided to become a mentor too."
Osei said the benefits of mentoring aren't limited to T.E.A.M. participants. She's said she's now known among her friends as someone they can turn to for advice. "Many of my friends come into my room and say, 'I need you to use your skills as a mentor on me. I'm having a bad week.' And they'll just blurt out a long story about what they're going through, and I listen and try to use my skills to fix that problem."
Zermeno called T.E.A.M. a hidden treasure. "I've seen the scholars come into the program being shy, and now they're doing more things than we do on campus," she said. "T.E.A.M. does a great job in building a family bond."
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