Helping fellow students adjust

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Regardless of their background or previous educational success, many students have a hard time acclimating to the rigorous academic load and new social atmosphere that often accompanies the transition to life at a university.

Fortunately, peer mentors like Andrew Perryman, a junior mechanical engineering major, are there to lend Northern Arizona University students a helping hand. As a member of the Peer Jacks program, a mentoring program that assigns out-of-state freshmen an upperclassman mentor, Perryman works side-by-side with new students to help them increase their chances for a successful first year – and thereby lay a foundation for a successful academic career.

Learning from experience

Perryman, who participated in the Peer Jacks program when he arrived at the university, believes he is an effective peer mentor because he endured struggles himself as an incoming freshman.

“I was pretty self-sufficient in high school, so I didn’t think I needed any help,” Perryman says. “I was more on the stubborn side and wanted to try and do everything on my own. That’s why my transition was a little more difficult than it had to be. But Peer Jacks was always open and accessible to me.”

In Peer Jacks, Perryman found both the resources he needed to help him succeed and a friend in whom he could confide. 

“When I first met my mentor, I thought he was really cool, and we could relate a lot, so I just kept coming to meetings and hanging out,” Perryman says. “I always came to meetings because he helped me and gave me a lot of good tips on how to study. I found out where to go for tutoring, student instructors, and other important resources.”

Perryman’s experience inspired him to give back, and put him in a position where he could provide the same kind of help to other students who were struggling. During his sophomore year, Perryman became a Peer Jack mentor for 13 freshmen. In this role, his responsibilities include meeting with his mentees once every other week, and coordinating events to help students become more involved in the campus community.

With a year of experience under his belt, Perryman says that his role as a Peer Jack goes far beyond simply existing as a resource. 

“In a way, we really are here to help and be so much more than just a mentor,” Perryman says. “We ask questions about how they’re doing, if they’re doing okay in classes, if they’re having any problems with their roommates or personal issues. In that way, we really are here to help and be more than a mentor; we’re friends who are here to help you through the good and the bad.”

Mutually beneficial

While it is Perryman’s job to provide support and guidance to students, he is also aware of the benefits he has enjoyed due to Peer Jacks.

“I grew a lot and learned how to communicate with all different types of kids and students,” he says. “That’s what made the experience really great.”

Melissa Welker, director of the Student Learning Centers, says that Perryman’s success is not a rare occurrence; according to Welker, the Peer Jacks program is so valuable because it provides mentors for students who are struggling, while also giving the mentors themselves valuable skills that will benefit them in future endeavors.

“I think Peer Jacks brings the ability for students to find their niche a bit sooner in terms of coming to this place they may have visited only once or twice,” Welker says. “We really open up the doors to bring them some rich experiences right away to help them get connected. It also gives our mentors the opportunity to connect with others and their university in very positive ways; it’s a win-win for all involved.”