Peer Mentors: The Heart of the Living Learning Program
by Andrea Richard
(Nov. 12, 2013) — Designed to offer students an opportunity to live and learn together in an integrated academic residential environment, living learning programs, or LLPs are a “dynamic residential experience [that] offer specialized programming, interactions with UK faculty and staff; and a supportive community that focuses on student success,” according to the university’s Undergraduate Housing & Residence Life website. There are currently 14 LLPs at UK, and a part of what makes them successful is the role of the peer mentor.
Hired in the spring, peer mentors train in both the spring and fall semesters and continue throughout the school year. They are dedicated to ensuring student success at the university and helping students adjust to life on the college campus. The peer mentor’s role is be to the ultimate resource that students wish to have when stepping foot on campus. In the process, relationships are formed and friendships are established.
Typically, peer mentors are sophomores who have completed the living learning program during the previous year. These students encourage freshmen to get involved on campus, develop effective study habits, utilize on-campus resources and communicate with their professors. These students are also responsible for helping to organize community programs, both social and academic, in collaboration with the residential advisors (RAs).
Becca Boom, a mentor in the College of Arts and Sciences A&S Wired program, joined an LLP to feel connected to campus. She returned her sophomore year to the mentor because of the “sense of community and family [she] felt within the A&S Wired program.”
Boom loved her experience in Keeneland Hall so much that she returned for the 2013-14 school year so that the incoming freshmen would have the same community experience she had during her freshman year.
Boom strives to shape the A&S Wired program by creating events that are targeting students to mingle and engage in conversation. She achieves this goal by being present in the residence hall and letting students know she is there for them despite their issue.
Icyana Abner, also a mentor in the Wired program, returned her sophomore year “to be a part of a bigger community where people actually [come] together and care.”
Abner’s goal for the program is to connect herself with the students and for the students to be able to connect with each other. Answering student questions, hosting events and being available to the students is her way of shaping the A&S Wired community.
When asked what the biggest reward of their job is, both girls responded, “helping freshmen become acquainted with campus and seeing how they form friendships within the A&S Wired program.”
Kathryn Macon, a freshman in the program, finds Boom's mentorship very helpful.
“Becca is always there when I need her," she said. "She gives good advice, helps with homework, and is a great friend and mentor.”
Elisha Ellis, a junior peer mentor in the First Generation LLP, said meeting so many different people was what caused her to become a peer mentor.
“I use to be in a shell,” Ellis said. “Now I’m outgoing.”
Unlike most peer mentors, Ellis’ first year in the program was serving as a mentor. A first generation student, she had not heard about the living learning program until her sophomore year. Ellis became aware of the program through interaction with other first generation students.
Ellis says she is constantly striving to be a good example and to encourage students to persevere even in times of struggle.
Kaylee Hicks, a freshman in the honors LLP, said her mentor Tolu Odukoya teaches her to budget time and make studying for courses more manageable and less overwhelming. Since they are both interested in medicine, Hicks said Odukoya “shows her the ropes.”
“He is conscious of the influence he has on everyone in the dorm," Hicks said. "If he sees someone distressed, he will talk to them, and befriend those who need friends. Having a peer mentor is at its base a friendship. It’s hard to relate to someone if the friendship isn’t there.”
Celebrating its 25th year on campus in fall 2014, the Living Learning Program at the University of Kentucky provides students with an environment to learn where they live and to live where they learn. The Division of Student Affairs Office of Residence Life, creators of the program, collaborated with academic and other student success partners to complement the classroom experience. Through Living Learning Communities and Residential Colleges, UK offers students an opportunity to live and learn together in an integrated academic residential environment. This dynamic residential experience offers specialized programming, interactions with UK faculty and staff, and a supportive community that focuses on student success.
The program has grown exponentially in recent years with 965 students participating in 13 programs this fall. Six more programs will be added in fall 2014, nine times more than in 2008. For more information, visit http://uknow.uky.edu/content/students-live-and-learn-uk, the LLP Facebook page, or contact Trisha Clement Montgomery, Assistant Director for Academic Initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org.