Peer Mentors Help Ease Transition to College
Western Nevada College students who are beginning fall classes should be better able to succeed, thanks to a new admission and college preparation process.
‘Project Graduate’ is reinventing the way new degree and certificate-seeking students are preparing for classes. In addition, WNC now requires advising services to new students before they register.
“It’s changed our admissions process, changed our entire counseling and advising processes,” said Deborah Case, director of Counseling Services. “It’s very impactful in the way we do business for new students.”
A recent study by the Institute for Higher Education Policy revealed that only 38 percent of Nevada bachelor’s degree-seeking students received their degree in six years. The national average at the time was 56 percent.
To help improve things, WNC implemented a three-step guidance and academic support plan to increase student success. Students must now take a placement test, attend an orientation session and meet with a counselor before registering for classes. The college also offered a Summer Bridge program that helps high school graduates brush up on math and English skills before they take college placement tests.
New students are finding that the preregistration requirements are keeping them on task and helping them shape their course schedule.
“It was easy,” said Josh Nunez, who completed Project Graduate and enrolled for fall classes. “It would have taken me longer if I had to do it any other way.”
Luis Camacho agreed. “It was pretty helpful, and it made it really easy to pick out my classes,” he said. Camacho said that the mandatory orientation was particularly beneficial. “I found the guest speakers talking about their personal experiences most interesting,” Camacho said.
The college has also utilized fellow and former students to provide perspective and tips to incoming students through a peer mentor program.
“When I got started at WNC, I didn’t go through all of these steps,” said Nathan Neben, a 2011 graduate who is now a peer mentor who helps keep incoming students on task. “I didn’t take a placement test, I didn’t talk to a counselor and I don’t think I went to an orientation either, so it took me a few semesters to really get on my feet and figure out what I was doing and what classes I should be taking.”
Peer mentors have been critical in helping new students meet deadlines and guiding them through the registration process, according to Case.
“By and large, everybody is confused and afraid when they start college … it doesn’t matter what age they are,” she said. “The peer mentors have a lot of interacting with our students, and we know that interaction and connection are huge for people when they are first starting.”
In February, when admission for the summer and fall semesters opened, peer mentors began contacting students who applied to WNC, welcoming them to the college and reminding them of the new preregistration requirements.
“Some are kind of annoyed, but we keep encouraging them that this is all good information,” said peer mentor Christina Connell, who is beginning her third semester studying early childhood education. “I really wish this program was here when I started. It would have been so nice to have this all available for me and to have a peer mentor to set me up and make themselves ready to answer any questions, even throughout the semester.”
Case said the peer mentors’ persistence should alleviate a last-minute glut of students trying to complete their preregistration requirements before classes begin. From postcards to text messages, the counseling department works hard to contact enrolling students.
“We’ve been trying to stream them smoothly in,” Case said. “There are some people we have called twice, and we text them because some young people don’t even read their e-mail or answer their phone … they prefer texting. But that’s as much as we can do. If they don’t respond, we’ve done everything we can.”
Among the mentors helping students register this summer is 60-year-old construction technology student Don Boebel. The former carpenter went back to school after the construction and real estate industries were severely impacted by economic recession.
“Times are tough out there, and we shouldn’t be afraid to try and improve ourselves, to try to take a different direction,” Boebel said. “Right now, a lot of people are at a standstill, not sure what to do with themselves.
“I’m meeting a lot of guys from the trade who have a really scared look like: ‘What am I going to do?’ I just give them that confidence that if I can do it, you can do it,” Boebel said. “Project Graduate just would have softened the blow for me, coming off the street after banging nails for 35 years, 40 hours a week, to all of sudden you are sitting in a classroom. That was really hard.”
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