Peer Advising Brown Bag (November 5 , 2009)

Summary: Jennifer Taylor from Psychology gave an overview of their Peer Advising program.  They have 20 peer advisors who serve for a one-term duration, while concurrently enrolled in PSYCH 308.  The course is offered each fall and winter—but students must apply to take it—and functions as part of their training, also counting as an experiential lab for their requirements for the major (Psychology major only).  In addition to the course, there is a 2 session training that covers each of the majors, pre-reqs, resources, etc.  Applicants are solicited via emails to the Psychology majors group.  The students work 3-4 hours/week in the Psych SAA Office and assist students on a walk-in basis with declarations, course scheduling, a wide range of major informational questions, finding research, post-graduation plans, etc. and regularly make referrals to Psychology department advisors (3-4 of whom are usually available for immediate consultation on any questions or issues the peer advisors feel are beyond their purview or training), as well as to a variety of other Psych and campus resources and offices.  The peer advisors record their discussions with students on an online form that is archived in an in-house database, which Psychology SAA advisors and the PSYCH 308 instructor can access.  Advisees fill out evaluations after each meeting with a peer advisor.

The Peer Advisors form an integral part of Psychology’s tiered advising program.  For more detail about their Peer Advising program click here [file attached].  For more information about their whole advising program, see the summary of the 2009 Advising Summit.

Challenges: The main challenge is the frequent turnover in Peer Advisors since they usually only serve for one term while they are taking PSYCH 308.  Some Peer Advisors have served an additional semester on a volunteer basis or through an Independent Study.

Suggestions & Recommendations:

  • Assess need: How long is the average wait for a student to see an advisor (which can obviously vary greatly depending on the time of the semester)? What is the number of students who don’t see an advisor because of the wait?  How many students see advisors about questions that a (trained) peer could answer?

  • Weigh the pros and cons: How much time, effort, and resources will it take to develop and maintain a Peer Advising program in your department?  What will be the benefits to your students, your advisors, and your advising program as a whole?

  • Make a plan to include applicant solicitation, selection, training, work responsibilities and resources, assessment.

  • Collaboration: many departments, programs, and units on campus have well established peer advising programs, e.g., Psychology, PitE, IGR, UROP, ONSP, Housing, LSA Advising.

  • Other Considerations:
    • What other means are being used to get basic information to students, e.g., websites, email, newsletters, handouts, group information sessions, etc.?  (See also, Effective Communication With Students Brown Bag.)
    • Experiment with flexible use of peer advising, e.g.,  IM/Chat, especially during evening hours.  (Both the Career Center and PAAO Peer Advisors use Chat.)

  • Future Development: Could there be college-wide Peer Advisor general training through UC course, with additional sessions during or after the course for more specific and individualized training?

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