Buff Bridge, Peer Mentors Partner to Help Freshmen

Callie Shipley, Coordinator for Junior Reporters

As students helping students, peer mentors form relationships with freshmen in the Buff Bridge program and prepare them for success on campus.

The Buff Bridge program assists selected at-risk students who met minimum admission requirements but who could “benefit from additional academic preparation and an extended introduction” to West Texas A&M University, according to the Buff Bridge website. The BUFF Mentoring program, established this year, partnered with Buff Bridge to provide peer mentors for the freshmen participating in the program.

“We got connected with (Student Success Center Manager) Meghan Williams; she wanted to develop the peer mentor program,” said Ann Fry, director of first-year experience and learning communities. “They didn’t really have a project yet, and I needed peer mentors. Meghan and I had a meeting of the minds and worked together to develop an initial program.”

After qualifying freshmen completed an application and paid a $500 fee, 40 students were selected to participate in Buff Bridge from Aug. 15-24. The program cost included tuition and fees for early enrollment, room and board on campus, tutoring services and course materials.

“It is kind of a concentrated freshman year seminar that will continue with IDS 1071 into the semester with the same teachers—the same everything—and enable them to make connections and to kind of get to know themselves a little bit better,” Fry said.

Freshman Kelsey Shuttlesworth said the program and the help of her peer mentors have helped her to become comfortable and confident on campus.

“We got here for Buff Bridge a week and a half before everyone moves in,” Shuttlesworth said. “It was a great way to get settled into dorms and get familiar with the campus. It helps by showing how great WT is. How helpful the staff and professors are. They want you to succeed. They care about you.”

Professors reviewed writing and mathematics during two classroom sessions, and classes also involved learning about the campus and its services, how to study, how to conquer roadblocks and more.

“I think the concentration of material for freshmen who are a little bit at-risk anyway gives them a good jumpstart,” Fry said. “It can. Now, you know, they have to take it to heart, and they have to realize what we’re trying to do in trying to make those connections, but I think that it is a really good way for students to develop a sense of community, to get settled into their dorm, to realize where they are on campus and where they need to be without the pressure of the first day of class and not knowing anything.”

The peer mentors join these classes and are then able to help the students with any questions they may have. Peer mentor Starmie Bennett, a sophomore Corporate Communications major, said she has been impressed with the students’ “enthusiasm and persistency.”

“I really have enjoyed being in class with them,” Bennett said. “I am getting to hear what they’re hearing, so if they have questions, I can relate to them and understand what they’re thinking about. [Being a peer mentor] doesn’t mean that we have it all figured out; it just means that we’ve been where you’re at, and we can totally help you with everything.”

While students have graduated from Buff Bridge, each peer mentor will continue to meet with a specific group of five to eight students weekly and hold activities for them throughout the year.

“With a lot of it, they are pulling together study groups,” Fry said. “They are helping the instructors kind of as a liaison between the two. A lot of times, a student will ask another student a question that they wouldn’t ask us, so we hope that they will use the peer mentors as a resource and that they will keep up with them at least through this first semester and develop study groups and cohorts and stick together a little bit in order to help them succeed.”

Although Bennett doesn’t think any of the freshmen knew each other before the program began, she said the students have already begun building relationships with one another.

“Just today, I was walking out, and they were like, ‘Let’s all go work out! Text me in the group message,’” she said. “It’s been really cool to already see them making friendships, building relationships and already having fun with us.”

The mentors will meet with Williams every other week to review the success of the program and will plan “hang-out” activities for the freshmen throughout the year such as movie and game nights, trips to coffee shops, adventures in the canyon and more.

“We did a game night the other night, and I felt like everyone had a good time and felt like they could be themselves,” Bennett said. “It was really cool to be just there and a part of something. I’m hoping also to do, ‘Let’s all meet in the Hastings [Electronic Learning Center] and study together,’ or if they’re struggling with a class, let’s talk about it. Maybe some of us have been through it or are struggling, too.”

Fry said she has enjoyed working with the students and expects they can “pick up a lot of tools” through Buff Bridge and peer mentoring that will help them throughout their first semester.

“I really like the kids,” she said. “I think they’re funny. I think they are inquisitive. I think they are excited to be here, and I want to give them every opportunity to succeed, every tool that I can give them so that they get through college and think, ‘Wow. That was a great experience.’”

Whether with small concerns or major issues, Bennett hopes her mentees will feel comfortable coming to her as a person with whom they can relate. She looks forward to continuing to connect with the students during the upcoming semester.

“I wanted to be a peer mentor because, as a freshman, I think it’s cool to have someone that you know you can go to and someone that you know has been through exactly what you’ve been through,” she said. “I really felt like I could connect with people by doing that. Building those kind of relationships is something that I’m good at and something that I like to do, so I applied to be a peer mentor.”

 

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