It’s that time of year again – the halfway point of summer vacation, where university students begin to anticipate the upcoming school year merely two months away. Soon they will be packing their bags, and university campuses will once again be buzzing with classes and events. The thought of returning to this familiar routine where I find myself balancing assignments and extra-curricular involvement, or attempting to find that healthy meal during the stress of exam season, has caused me to most recently reflect – how did I manage all of this on my own?
The halfway point of summer also marks for me the halfway point of my undergraduate degree, and if there is one takeaway I find most valuable to share with all of you, it is the importance of peer mentorship within a university setting. I’m thankful to say that the response to my moment of reflection simply is “I didn’t manage it all on my own.” My university provided me with the available resources where I had the opportunity to facilitate meaningful relationships from my first day on campus. While post-secondary institutions heavily focus their attention on academia and improving the learning environments within its classrooms, a lot of cognitive, social, and emotional guidance is discovered from outside of the classroom and contributes to a sense of identity and belonging on campus.
Whether you’re entering your first year, final year, or find yourself somewhere in the middle, mentorship is a valuable investment for both the mentor and the mentee. With my interest in peer mentorship relationships I came across an article titled “Student-facilitated transition: Fostering empowering collectives” which provides a strong background on facilitating peer mentorship relationships on campus. It states: engaging in a collective, multidimensional learning experience, by incorporating both reflection and student-led communities, transitioning students and their peer mentors empower each other to create a sense of “becoming” a university student that uniquely suits their individual and group experience.
It is this process of a collective “becoming” whereby students have the opportunity to utilize campus resources, feel comfortable approaching their peers, as well as establish a sense of community on campus. Having a peer to confide in can assist in shaping future trajectory, as it challenges students to reach their full potential, push their boundaries, and plan ahead. Upper year students are able to provide a portfolio of experiences to first and second year students, however at the same time are given the chance to improve their own leadership skills by investing their time in a particular individual. This mutually beneficial relationship is what challenged me to find my passions. I have had individuals in my life who experienced similar challenges, and while they offered me their guidance, they still provided a space which allowed me to make decisions I felt comfortable with.
All this in turn poses the question, what exactly should mentorship look like on a university campus?
Universities should work towards promoting more mentorship and leadership initiatives throughout campus. It facilitates room for growth and offers a sense of accountability to another individual. Through this accountability, both the support and encouragement that is formed builds a character of integrity and honesty. Students are motivated to work harder and achieve their goals when there is a community of people who believe in them, and it increases the number of students who are excited to give back. Furthermore, mentorship promotes inclusive communities on campus. In an institution so large, students often fear the feeling of being lost or simply “just a number.” Establishing common ground with other individuals, however, creates a clearer pathway to community.
Since there is not one definition of mentorship, universities are given the freedom to explore how their students want to feel supported and should prioritize capitalizing on these needs. We should work towards improving already existing services, promoting collaborations across institutions, and determining which avenues are contributing to the creation of more confident students. From my own experience I recognize the value of both structured and unstructured mentorships. As a student, I participated in a service that my student’s union offered (MSU Spark) where I engaged in weekly structured sessions relating to first year transition. Outside of these sessions, however, I realized the importance of making an effort to check in with others. Whether it was a 30-minute coffee, or a small message, it was the outside investment that truly made the biggest impact - it was the small things that helpful upper year students did for me that I remembered, and was able to later give back to incoming students.
Another study I came across outlined the two most critical and valued qualities of mentorship: nearness and experience. Having an ongoing commitment and exposure to diverse settings is what challenged my engagement and identity to my institution. It motivated me to work hard and reflect on both my growth and areas of improvement. My mentors set a helpful example through their experiences and demonstrated a sense of empathy and understanding towards me. Their familiarity in certain situations offered positive exposure and their company made me feel safe. Overall, they showed me what it meant to be a good friend, because sometimes all we’re looking for is someone who is willing to listen and believe in us.
Come September, whether you’re stepping onto your campus for the first time or the last time, reconsider how mentorship played into your undergraduate experience. Are there areas in which you could have felt more supported? Or where you could have helped others? It’s never too late to offer someone support, it’s only a matter of deciding to make the investment. It will take work, time, and energy, however, the return of inspiration and gratitude trumps all.
Summer Research Intern
Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance