Heidi Purdy, Michigan State University
Editor’s Note: To learn more about the benefits of peer advising, plan to join members of the NACADA Peer Advising and mentoring Commission on November 14, 2014 for the webinar presentation, “The Peer Advising Advantage: Creating Meaningful Connections.”
In 2009, the advising center in the College of Natural Science (CNS) at Michigan State University consisted of fewer than four full-time advisors and over 2500 students to serve. With the number of advisees steadily growing each year and the budget steadily shrinking, the office was on the verge of complete overload when a group of eager graduate students from the student affairs master’s degree program inquired about assisting with a problem as a semester project. This group was set on the task of reviewing the literature on peer advising and its advantages, as well as assessing how it might fit for CNS.
People have always looked to their peers for help. This naturally occurring tendency happens in every setting, whether asking a classmate to pass a crayon in kindergarten or turning to a co-worker for a physician recommendation. Higher education is no different. Many college students look to other students for what they perceive to be better guidance than what they would receive from advisors or faculty (Koring & Campbell, 2005). Utilizing peer advisors is a way to harness these easy connections built between students and recognize in a very vocal manner that students are a part of the advising process, rather than recipients of an advice-giving encounter (McGillin & Hayes, 2005). The essential point in enlisting the help of peer advisors is clearly identifying the boundaries and limits that the student will have in their role and assisting them in understanding the level of knowledge and ability of the professional advising staff (Ender & Newton, 2010). For the CNS advising center, Girard, LoConte, Niemi, and Wojtkowski (2009) proposed a comprehensive peer advising program to address the needs of students from freshman through senior year. With this evidence in hand, the CNS director of advising was able to secure the approval to fund a pilot program of five peer advisors to assist with programs, projects and one-on-one advising throughout the year.
The CNS Peer Advising program was designed around getting advisees to communicate one on one with a peer and to thoroughly train the peer advisors to provide knowledgeable information enhanced with personal experience, rather than simply serving as a mentor. The peer advisors are treated like full members of the advising staff and they are bound by the same ethics and regulations. In addition to meeting with students in one-on-one appointments, they are responsible for blogging on a weekly basis, participating in recruitment events for the college and authoring a quarterly newsletter. They also brainstorm their own tasks such as developing a series of brochures comparing careers and the means to pursue them; designing presentations for helping students stay on track with their goals and designing their own training manual.
Now in its fourth year, the peer advising program plays an essential role in the advising puzzle for the CNS advising center. The peer advisors assist the college in every way, yet are fully aware of their status as a supplemental resource, rather than a primary one. These students are the first to say that even with all their training, they still depend on and frequently work with professional advisors on their own academic goals and success. They are very good at building a foundational relationship with advisees and then referring them on to the professional advising staff. The peer advisors are our frontline and they often get recognized by students for their role even outside of the office.
What are the advisees saying about the peer advisors? As with anything there have been ups and downs, but overwhelmingly the response has been positive.
“She was extremely nice and very supportive. She stayed with me to help me plan my summer schedule, as well as my sophomore year. She gave me lots of information I wouldn't have known otherwise” (Anonymous, survey, 2012).
“I was seriously so impressed with [the peer advisor]. When I was told that the advisor was a student, I was apprehensive. But [the peer advisor] really knew what she was talking about and spoke in terms that appealed to me as a student. For the questions that she wasn't able to help me with immediately she emailed me within a few hours with answers to my questions” (Anonymous, survey, 2011).
“Easy, quick, informal, just what I was looking for” (Anonymous, survey, 2011).
The connections forged between the peer advisors and our advisees are something professional advisors could not achieve. It builds a trust with the advising center that carries throughout the advisees’ academic career and fosters an environment where they are willing to keep an open mind to believe that the advisors care about them and truly have their best interest at heart. In this way, the peer advisors are the best partners and recruiters the advising center could hope for. They reach out and show by the examples of their actions and pathways the essential place that advising has within a successful college career. Whether blogging about the volunteer and research opportunities they have been a part of or sharing their graduate application process during an appointment, the peer advisors are the embodiment of what the advisees are striving for.
The peer advisors themselves have stated that the position has had a great effect on them. The position is so much more than a job; it is a chance to grow and develop in ways they had not thought possible.
“This position has absolutely made me a better leader and a more effective communicator at both a social and professional level” (K. Pioszak, Interview, 2012).
“I can honestly say that I was not comfortable speaking to groups (of any size) before this opportunity. It has taught me to be more confident in my own abilities as a communicator on a daily basis” (K. Pioszak, Interview, 2012).
"My interactions with [students] as well as my other encounters with students of different personalities, ages, and cultures will help me become a stronger pharmacist" (Y. Yang, Interview, 2011).
"After an advising appointment with a student, my career interests in academics narrowed down to academic advising" (Y. Yang, Interview, 2011).
In working so closely with the peer advisors, the professional advisors also are able to keep a better focus on what is happening with the current students and develop pathways for outreach and growth that are the most effective and up to date. So when asked whether peer advisors are friends or foes, the answer is resoundingly “Friends!” Their influence on both the advisors and advisees is vast and positive. Having them on staff is truly a winning situation in every way. To learn more about the CNS peer advisors, check out their blog at https://natsci.msu.edu/students/current-students/student-blog/.
College of Natural Science
Michigan State University
Ender, S. C., & Newton, F. B. (Eds.). (2010). Students helping students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Girard, L., LoConte, C., Niemi, J. C., & Wojtkowski, C. M. (2009). The Undergraduate Peer Advising Network: A Proposal for the College of Natural Science. Unpublished manuscript, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI.
Koring, H., & Campbell, S. (2005). An introduction to peer advising. Peer Advising: Intentional Connections to Support Student Learning, 13, 9-14.
McGillin, V., & Hayes, H. (2005). Choosing a model and a mode of delivery. Peer Advising: Intentional Connections to Support Student Learning, 13, 21-32.
Cite this article using APA style as: Purdy, H. (2013, September). Peer advisors: Friend or foe? Academic Advising Today, 36(3). Retrieved from [insert url here]