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Allison McWilliams sent out an invite to the ZSR Mentoring Committee to attend a webinar: “Three Ways to Improve Your Peer Mentor Programs.” Unfortunately, I was not able to attend the webinar on the day that it aired. This week I was able to view the recorded webinar.

The webinar offered some excellent advice for staff who work with peer mentors. Webinar speakers were: Jimmie Gahagan (University of South Carolina); Craig Benson (University of Missouri); and Joe Henry (Sheridan College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning).

Gahagan (who has published on residential learning initiatives) kicked off the webinar by defining the term peer leader as, “students who have been selected and trained to offer educational services to their peers.” He noted that there is value in the peer leadership experience for students in the following areas: academic success, leadership skills, and diversity. During the presentation, Gahagan mentioned the National Peer Educator Survey (NPES) which was developed by a team of researchers and college health experts. Gahagan referenced an article by Wawrzynski, LoConte, and Straker (2011) in New Directions for Student Services that describes learning outcomes for peer educators. An assessment of peer mentors’ needs at the University of South Carolina reveals that students want: professional development; networking opportunities; and feedback and recognition. These were identified by Gahagan as “The Big 3 Gaps.”

In terms of filling these gaps, Benson discussed professional development. Benson noted that “students are effective in helping others.” To assist peer mentors, a lot of training is provided. At Benson’s institution (University of Missouri), there is semester-long training. The Peer Mentoring Program at Sheridan has been around for 14 years.

At all three institutions, networking plays an important role in peer mentoring. Peer mentoring opportunities connect students with other students across campus. It also links them with potential resources for employment.

The third gap deals with feedback and recognition. It is important to create strategies to recognize the efforts of the peer leaders. For example, “A Peer Leadership Recognition Event” at the University of South Carolina provides an opportunity to recognize students and say thank you.

This webcast provided an opportunity to find out about peer mentoring at other institutions. I was able to pick up some ideas that the ZSR Mentoring Committee could consider in developing future mentoring programs.