The Value of Mentorship in Building a Community
Senior PAL Coordinator Liz Berry explains how Peer Advocate Leaders help shape college experiences.Nov 17, 2023
In my experience, there’s no such thing as a quintessential American college experience anymore. We’re all united through some common experiences. It starts with finding the essentials, like the Auraria library, Learning Resources Center, and whatever caffeine source gets us through the day. We’re bound by a constant cycle of semesters beginning and ending often enough that each year of our lives feels more like a lifetime. We’re constantly meeting new people—in class, in the Tivoli Student Union, in line for the free food or swag of the moment. But there’s extraordinary differences in our experiences outside the confines of a classroom. Working or not, taking care of a family or going home alone, joining every student organization you find or never stepping off the path from the parking garage to the classroom—we’re all shaped by so much more than what’s listed on our class syllabi each semester.
For some students, that’s such a freeing thought. Now, you get to ask the questions you couldn’t ask before. Now, you can figure out what you never even realized you wanted to ask before. You set your own terms for how to grow over the next four to six years. You find your community. You find yourself. Maybe for the first time.
For other students, it can be too much. Too many unanswered questions. Too many options. Too many things to try and to find and to figure out all on your own for the first time.
That’s why the ‘find our people’ step is really the first, last, and most constant factor for any college student as you complete your academic journey. Not only for who you are until you graduate, but for your future self, who will keep learning long after you’ve crossed the stage at commencement. In the program I oversee, the Peer Advocate Leaders (PALs) focus a lot of their time on helping new students find their community on campus because we believe it’s such an important component of a successful college experience. Even if we have tons of friends from high school or work, finding that sense of support that’s unique to the campus community can make our time on campus so much more accessible and so much more fun. Especially in a time of our lives when there’s so much growth happening, having a mentor as a part of that community is such a powerful option that all of our students have through one of the many mentorship programs built into the Lynx community.
The First Year Experiences office focuses on supporting first time college students and new transfers to our community—one of the single greatest transitions a student ever experiences in their life. My favorite component of the FYE program are the PALs, who are embedded into the FYE classes and work with their own cohort of students who are new to campus each fall. By providing a single source for the “Where on Earth is that?” and “Who can help with this?” questions we all have—from the very first class day—the PAL program gives our new students that starting point for building what their community will look like as a Lynx.
As much as we’re here to serve the students enrolled in the First Year Experience classes, the PALs themselves often cultivate their own communities through this kind of work. We have peer mentors from all over the globe studying majors in almost every college at CU Denver, ranging from sophomores to graduate students about to complete their master’s degree, and the single best part of the work I do with this program is watching students who likely never would have met without this program becoming crucial parts of each other’s day. The confidence that mentors find through supporting students who feel comfortable coming to them for help and guidance is a powerfully positive influence for both the mentor and the mentee, because even mentors don’t have all of the answers. In truth, mentors have just as much to learn as the students they mentor—they’re just focusing on different skills. One of the most important things a mentor learns about—and diligently focuses on overcoming—is Imposter Syndrome, coined by Dr. Suzanne Imes. When experiencing Imposter Syndrome, people battle feelings of inadequacy, even diminishing legitimate accomplishments, talents, and skills. This can be really common for college students who are extremely focused on learning as much as possible and getting as much as possible out of the finite experience we get on a college campus. But this mindset downplays not only all that we’ve objectively achieved but the incredible importance of what we’ve learned along the way. Mentors provide incalculable value added to the growth of their mentees and vice versa, because each individual’s experience is so crucial to each other’s development.
So much of the college experience is the overall process, and the students who want to spend their time learning more by helping others are very often some of the most fulfilled students I work with. Peer Advocate Leaders get to play such a fun role in the first semester experience for so many in the Lynx community, and I’m willing to bet you have something unique to offer the team. The application for next fall’s cohort of PALs is live from 11/30/23-1/28/24 and can be found at ucdenver.edu/FYE. If you have any questions, please feel free to attend any of our info sessions or email PAL@ucdenver.edu.