Peer Mentors: Creating Independent Learners

Friday, May 09, 2014

The peer mentoring program in the School of Business aims to do more than just help students   succeed in difficult courses; it provides opportunities for students to become independent learners who are prepared for the future.

The student peer mentoring program, a part of the Title III grant project, was launched in October, 2013. Mentors have been hired and trained for Principles of Accounting I and II, Economics I and II, Introduction to Computing, Business Programming Logic, and Business Law I and II.

During their training, student mentors learn how to actively engage students with the course work in group study sessions to reach an enhanced understanding of potentially difficult material. The mentors are also trained to understand individual learning styles and how to cater to them while making the sessions fun and active. They approach the material from various angles; utilize study materials such as study guides, outlines, charts, and graphs; and stimulate group sessions with the up-to-date technology accessible in the LearnLab.

“We have three different tables [in the LearnLab], so we can have multiple groups studying at one time. It’s easier for me to work and demonstrate for the students by putting my work up on the monitors for everyone to see. It’s easier for them to follow along,” Yuezhong Luo, Principles of Accounting I mentor, explained.

Aside from the technology at their disposal, the students thrive when working together. The goal of the group sessions is to facilitate communication and problem solving among the students in order to reach a higher level of comprehension. The mentors encourage the students to share problems, ideas, and solutions.

“What one person may not understand, another will. The roundtable discussions are really helpful for getting the point across,” Jason Frazer, Economics mentor, said.

This communication extends outside of the study sessions. The mentors provide their notes, as well as additional study materials they create, to their attendees via email. Students can also visit the mentors during their office hours if they missed a session or need additional help. Furthermore, mentors offer special pre-exam study sessions the day before an exam. These have been well attended.

They also provide a comfortable atmosphere where the students can gain confidence and feel at ease demonstrating their own skills as opposed to being shown. The students also feel more self-assured in their ability to find the answers on their own using their textbook or other materials. The techniques employed by the mentors create an environment that generates independent learners.

“Interactive group sessions are less intimidating [than the classroom atmosphere]. The students can be more involved. We want everybody to feel included. We want everyone to feel like they can reach out for help whenever they need to without feeling ashamed,” Seungha Kim, Introduction to Computing mentor, said.

Along with helping the students excel in their current courses, the mentors strive to prepare them to succeed in all courses and in future schooling. To do this, they help the students understand what type of learner they are and to maximize their study efficiency accordingly to get the most out of their classes.

“Our mentors show us different tactics to approach the material. They show us more than just one study technique to use and we can choose which one fits us the best. This is something that we can use for multiple classes, not just one,” said Dominik Mensah, a member of Jason Frazer’s study group.

Overall, improvement has been observed among the students, as well as the mentors, who have expressed that they are learning through the opportunity of mentoring and interacting with others. Students have noticed higher grades, better comprehension, and increased confidence in the classroom. Many also feel that the mentoring program could help others who are experiencing the same struggles they were.

“It helped me, so I know it will help other students,” Diamond Brown, a study group member, said. 

In just twelve weeks, the mentors have welcomed more than 350 student visits during their mentoring sessions and office hours, resulting in noticeable improvement among the visitors’ grades and classroom performance.  The program not only aids in student success and retention, but also builds on the confidence and life skills of the mentors and mentees alike. It has proved to be a rewarding experience for both parties.

 “It feels really good to see students start to understand something that they once were frustrated over. Through working together, they start to get it,” said Principles of Accounting II mentor, Alex Campbell.

 The success of the program has been outstanding, and this is not going unnoticed. The mentors have been invited to the West Virginia Student Success Summit on July 30, 2014 to talk about the creation and success of the student mentoring program. The growth of the program is expected to continue into the next school year. The amount of mentors will more than double, and more classes in the School of Business will be covered.