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Peer mentor program helps students connect

Alan Flurry

Now in its third year, the Math Peer Mentor Program (MP)2 in the department of mathematics connects undergraduate upperclassmen with freshmen and transfer students. The program creates a runway to socializing new students to the rigors of a new academic environment – and welcoming students into the campus community.

"From the time students meet a mentor, they immediately begin to feel connected to their department, immediately feel connected to their major, and connected to Franklin College," said Kestrina Shrestha, mathematics academic advisor who designed and developed the peer mentor program.

She said mentors in the program remember how much they could have used a mentor as a new student and so find gratification in their ability to help others.

"Often, when students come in as a math major, and in STEM more generally, they are feeling many different kinds of pressures related to the transition from high school," Shrestha said. "Many of our mentors in program said that when they came in, they felt like they were not good enough, or they were not as smart as everybody else. And once they got to the point where they took classes and met their peers, they realized, 'oh, I'm not the only one'."

The Math Peer Mentor Program, with 15 mentors and 18 mentees for fall semester '23, brings together students who have already cracked the code of involvement in the university – as members of academic clubs, having a second or third major or a certificate – with newly arrived students who may be overwhelmed with course work as well as the diversity of opportunity UGA makes available to everyone.

Mentors can also use the experience to fulfill the experiential learning requirement. As the mentors approach graduation from UGA, (MP)2 encourages them to join the UGA Mentor Program as alumni. The continuity creates a pipeline for continued UGA alumni involvement on campus.

"They are student leaders and we remind them that they are not just mentoring their peers, they are student leaders in the math department," Shrestha said.

To build on this opportunity, Shrestha also designed a leadership development workshop for mentors to talk about the components of leadership. The three-hour workshop took place Nov. 3.

She said having a program at the department level creates a sense of belonging that is so important for students.

"Whether it's a formal program like this or just a collaboration between units or departments, anything that creates a sense of belonging for our students is such a gift that we can give to their college experience," said Shrestha, who advocates for staff and faculty members find their own paths to leadership.

"As long as you're doing the right thing and it's helping people, you're making positive contributions that enrich their Franklin College and UGA experience. You're enriching the whole person and it is a gift I am very grateful for, to be working with students," she said.

Shrestha and (MP)2 built on the framework of thanks with a special event Nov. 16 – a give thanks event where students write thank you cards to their mentors, their professors, anyone they want to show appreciation.

"We all send texts and emails, but I like written notes, and to write them for other people," she said. The mathematics department provided pens, cards, and pizza in the department's undergraduate lounge in Boyd known as the Matrix. The lounge is an important physical space for students to work, meet, and collaborate, according to Dr. Jennifer Royal, mathematics undergraduate coordinator.

"Through the (MP)2 program, Kestrina has created a robust mentoring program for math majors," Royal said. "We are incredibly fortunate to have this program for our students."

The Give Thanks event, the Matrix, and peer mentor program work together to reinforce the sense of belonging – and gratitude.

"It's a good habit to instill in people – saying thank you," Shrestha said.


Image: Photo from the Nov. 3 leadership workshop, from left: Joy Harris, Dr. Jennifer Royal, Kestrina Shrestha, Kyle Jones, Evan Brigman, Cooper Clickner. All of the students in the photo are mentors.






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