Mentoring: Peers offer others a 'home away from home'

How do you find a mentor and why do you need one? In a three-part series, we look at different kinds of mentoring relationships students can seek out. Some are more formal while others grow through time, but all mentorships have benefits for students in the classroom, in their career and beyond. This is the second story in the series. The first story looked at the student-professor mentoring relationship.

Tony Giannetta knows the importance of a friendly face on campus.

“We like to say we’re your first friends on campus,” said Giannetta, outgoing president of Smeal Student Mentors, a group dedicated to helping first-year business students navigate the unfamiliar waters of college. The club comprises 135 members — all sophomores, juniors and seniors — who mentor incoming freshmen on everything from which classes to take to where to eat downtown.

“We like to say we’re your first friends on campus."

— Tony Giannetta, Smeal Student Mentors president

Throughout the year, Smeal Student Mentors plans events to foster the relationship between mentor and mentee. Mentees initially meet their mentor at Fall College Day in the beginning of the semester. Later, they get together at the Snack and Schedule — an event held so that mentors can recommend classes to mentees in a casual, finger-food-friendly setting.

Giannetta, a fifth-year senior in the master of accounting program in the Smeal College of Business, was a mentor as a sophomore, a time he calls challenging, but what yielded valuable results.

Having just completed freshman year himself, “it was definitely helpful being in their shoes so recently, knowing exactly what’s happening,” Giannetta said. The mentors aim to establish a friendly yet professional relationship with their mentees. “I’ve made some of my best friends through mentors,” he said, adding that as he became more involved with the club over the past four years, he’s taken on more responsibility as a team leader, club treasurer and training and recruitment chair and president.

Though Giannetta is a mentor, he also is a mentee. Last summer, he interned with Deloitte in Pittsburgh. During his experience, he was mentored by three colleagues: a recent graduate, a professional in his 30s and a seasoned professional.

His mentors were approachable and patient, and helped him navigate Pittsburgh, Giannetta said. The age difference was a major plus, especially because each mentor contributed different perspectives, he said.

Giannetta said his experience as a mentee and intern at Deloitte aided in the transition from college life to a professional internship. “I’ll be going back next year, and due to them, I’m really excited about it,” Giannetta said.

Meanwhile, Giannetta concentrated on giving freshmen business students the same influential experience Smeal Student Mentors gave him as a mentee. “We’re there to make their transition from high school to college as smooth as possible,” Giannetta said.

Finding a friend in a mentor

Madison Woomer is a freshman mentee in Smeal Student Mentors who instantly clicked with her mentor. “My mentor was so helpful. She made it easy to talk to her about anything at all,” Woomer said of Courtney Smugar, a junior majoring in marketing.

“From the beginning, there was someone there who was older and wiser, and [who could] help me,” Woomer said. Like many mentees, Woomer hopes to become a mentor next year. Woomer sought advice from Smugar on a variety of issues, from class recommendations to choosing a major.

Madison Woomer - Courtney Smugar - mentoring 1009

Courtney Smugar, left, a junior at Penn State majoring in marketing, and freshman Madison Woomer have developed a supportive and productive friendship through the Smeal College mentoring program.

Image: Patrick Mansell

Smugar also got involved as a way to give back. “I wanted to help others the way that I wanted to be helped but couldn’t,” she said.

Smugar entered Penn State as a math major and switched to the Division of Undergraduate Studies before later choosing Smeal. Her roommate had a Smeal Student Mentor, so she explored the possibility of becoming a business major.

In the future, Smugar wants to be an events coordinator in the sports industry. “This gives me a lot of leadership experience. It teaches me leadership skills on how to approach certain situations and how to react in situations that are thrown at me,” she said.

Aside from professional development, Smugar wants to provide her mentee with a good experience at Penn State. “It just feels nice to actually help these kids out,” she said.

Finding your mentor

What if you are not a business major? Penn State offers many other programs that could help. Transition Partners is a program designed to help international students feel comfortable during college life at Penn State, and the LEAP Mentors program matches incoming freshman with an upperclassman during summer session.

Colleges within Penn State also have programs to pair students with peer mentors so their area of study is incorporated. The Peer Mentor Program in the Department of Kinesiology introduces new students to life at Penn State through mentors who are selected on academic merit. College of Communications Peer Mentors gives freshman, change of campus students and transfer students meaningful relationships that build a community around academic and social advice.

“We really try to put emphasis on a family environment.”

— Adam Maiga, sophomore BLUEprint mentor

BLUEprint is a two-year-old mentoring program sponsored by the Paul Robeson Cultural Center. BLUEprint focuses on creating a cultural, social and academic support system for students of color by matching mentees with student mentors.

Adam Maiga is a sophomore studying psychology, a former BLUEprint mentee, and current mentor and mentor coordinator. “We really try to put emphasis on a family environment,” Maiga said of the “home away from home” feel mentors create for mentees.

Though BLUEprint is young, having been established in 2011, the effects of the program are already being seen. BLUEprint mentees have now become mentors after only one year. “They’re paying it forward, which is a fundamental part of BLUEprint … sharing your experiences with those who could benefit from your viewpoint,” said Kristen Wong, assistant director of the Paul Robeson Cultural Center.

BLUEprint mentors focus on talking to their mentees about balancing priorities, time management, being homesick and feeling involved and comfortable on campus, their “home away from home.”

“We’re just one big happy family,” Maiga said.

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Many additional peer mentoring opportunities exist at Penn State's campuses. For instance, at the University Park campus, the LEAP Mentor program offers students summertime paid leadership skill development while working with incoming first-year students, and at Penn State Mont Alto, students can be mentors during a student's first year of classes through the Jump Start program. The Undergraduate Speaking Center, also at University Park, gives students the chance to improve their public presentation skills with trained peer mentors. 

Last Updated May 15, 2014