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Hajim School students can connect with peers for guidance

Amanda Chen, a senior in biomedical engineering, is "passionate about motivating other students to develop an interest in science and engineering."

Carol Xu, a senior in optics, remembers what it was like "back when I was a freshman," asking upper class students for advice about courses and scheduling; now, she is more than happy to return the favor.

Laura Lyons, a senior in chemical engineering,  put a "huge amount of time" into finding a great study abroad opportunity that allowed her to keep up with her major, minor and cluster requirements. She has lots of time-saving advice to help other students enjoy the same opportunities.

Amanda, Carol, Laura and two other Hajim School seniors – Allayna DeHond and Kyle Fedorchak, both in BME, are serving as  "peer advisors"  with the College Center for Advising Services (CCAS) this school year to help other students in their departments. Even students in other Hajim School departments can go to them with general questions.

They advise students on things like selecting classes, declaring majors, connecting with faculty, and learning more about opportunities for research, study abroad, and independent studies.

For Hajim School students, it's as simple as shooting them an email.

'Peer advisors serve a unique role'

The program was started last school year at the request of the Student's Association Government, which noted that "while there is no disputing the value of a professional mentor in one's field of study, peer advisors serve a unique role in helping students to take full advantage of academic and co-curricular opportunities in their field."

Participation has increased from six departments to 11.

"It's a trend that's been started in several other universities," added Kelly Johnson, an academic counselor, who helps supervise the program for the CCAS. "A lot of times students may not want to come in and talk to an advisor or a faculty member every time they have a question, or they may have a question they want to ask someone else about first."

Even if the peer advisors can't answer a question, they can direct a student to a campus resource, such as the Career Center or Fellowships Office.

A platform for asking directly

Carol says most of the students who have come to her so far have been interested in advice about course schedules. "It's natural that they want to hear advice about what course to take from an upper class student," she said. "So it's nice that the peer advising program provides them a platform for asking us directly."

Laura, who was the first ChemE major to study in Cape Town, South Africa, says she is giving students insights on how to fit study abroad into their schedules, how to manage their major and other minors, and how to fulfill their electives with "the classes they are most interested in taking."

"I draw not only on my own experience in arranging my schedule but also on my peers and others who graduated before us, who I know fit study abroad and certain classes into their time at Rochester."

Peer advisors are selected based on how active they are in their major, their research experience, and their knowledge of faculty and of opportunities within their departments. They must have at least a 3.0 GPA.

'Jump in' and show you're interested

Laura says students have asked her about the biodiesel lab she works in, and how they can get involved in research. "What I've learned over my time here is that the best thing they can do is to jump in and show people that they'd like to participate. The worst the lab or research managers can say is, 'No, not right now,' and the student can come back more interested than ever a year later and show that they're still tenacious."

Amanda is a research assistant at the Benoit Therapeutic Biomaterials Lab. She took part in the DAAD-RISE Program at Jacobs University in Bremen, Germany, and in the Clemson Advanced Functional Membranes REU Program. She is active in the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society and the Biomedical Engineering Society (BMES).

"I am involved in the BMES mentoring program, which is similar to the peer advising program but specific to BME," she noted. "Generally, I provide advice on what classes to take, how to find internships, and how to seek out the appropriate fellowships."

Click here to see profiles of the peer advisors.