WEST LAFAYETTE— As new Boilermakers arrive on campus for Summer Start and Early Start programs, they are welcomed by many people in a short amount of time.
But it is the work of a small group of students who can make the biggest impression over a collegiate career: student mentors.
This year, 34 students are serving as mentors – 30 for Summer Start and Early Start, and four for visiting Purdue Polytechnic High School students – during the next five weeks of programs and classes.
“Mentors are a critical component for student success,” said John Gipson, director of summer session. “They have been through similar experiences before so they serve as role models for incoming students. Students are often more comfortable talking with other students than faculty or staff. Mentors open a line of communication that helps promote a successful transition to Purdue.”
Students interested in becoming mentors complete an application process, including interviews. Once selected, they complete training on topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to guiding students through the redesigned residential experience and changes on campus.
“The summer session staff and our partners across campus have provided excellent training for our mentors as we welcome students for navigating campus and informing everyone of all of the new requirements,” Gipson said.
The mentors work with students in a variety of ways – ranging from answering questions, providing assistance and guidance on resources and networking – all while taking classes themselves and living in the residence halls with program participants.
Last week, Summer Start mentors Makayla Colby and Christian Nichols were placing welcome kits in student rooms at Harrison Hall. Colby, a junior in the College of Education from Portage, Indiana, and Nichols, a junior in the College of Science from Indianapolis, are both Summer Start alums from 2018 and say the opportunity to serve as mentors is a great way to give back.
Colby said she is grateful for the opportunity to serve as a mentor during the next five weeks.
“I wanted to be sure that other students of color, with a main focus on Black students, could have support. Representation is important,” Colby said. “There are other people I can connect with them to make them successful, as well.”
Colby encourages students to engage with mentors and staff during their transition. “Ask for help when you need it,” she said. “Find a group that doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable. Find spaces and be authentic. Network with people.”
Nichols is in his second summer of serving as a mentor. “Coming in early gets you adjusted to campus. Come with an open mind and really make yourself ready for adjustments,” he said, adding that program staff are there to help students succeed.
Nichols said the mentors are trained to work with students in a variety of settings, including virtual, and to do some activities outside. “We’ll be working within the students’ comfort zones. Every student is going to be different,” he said.
Gipson continually receives positive feedback on the mentors and their role in helping new students adjust to campus. “It is not uncommon for mentors to meet with their mentees for lunch or other activities after the summer component has concluded. Peer mentors from out of state also seem to be especially important for helping students who are thousands of miles from home for the first time,” Gipson said.
This year, more than 1,000 new Boilermakers are participating in Purdue’s Summer Start and Early Start and other on-campus programs, which allow students to arrive early, take summer classes for credit and become adjusted to life on campus. The programs have both in-person and online components. The programs will run for five weeks.
Summer Start is a direct-admit program created in 2015 by Purdue President Mitch Daniels to expand access to a Purdue education, especially among lower-income, first-generation and minority students who fell just short in the admissions process but are considered otherwise qualified to succeed at Purdue. Since its inception, Summer Start has given 850 students the opportunity for a Purdue education they otherwise would have been denied. More than 71% of students in the 2020 cohort are from Indiana, and one in five are underrepresented minority students. Summer Start helps prepare Boilermakers for academic success, and complements Purdue’s land-grant mission of accessibility to a diverse group of students.
Organizers have worked with the Protect Purdue Health Center and University Residences to develop a safe move-in process that involved temperature checks, testing, wellness kits and welcome packets. The Protect Purdue Health Center has developed a detailed plan on contact tracing.