The First-Year Experience: What it Means to be a Student Mentor

Claire Nickerson, senior from Battle Creek, poses on the quad with her First-Year Experience mentees the summer of her junior year. Nickerson said being a student mentor "more than fulfilled her expectations" and was "super rewarding and really fun" (Photo courtesy of Claire Nickerson).

Every Albion College student has fond memories of their First Year Experience. From the best friend they made during orientation week to the funny and compassionate mentor they had, the FYE program has created memorable moments across campus. 

The First Year Experience (FYE) program is something all first-years and transfers at Albion take part in. According to Albion College’s website, the program was created to “Provide support and encouragement from a student’s first day of orientation to the final day of the first year at Albion.” 

The transition from high school to college is a challenging experience that millions of first-years undergo annually. Here at Albion, administrators have worked to develop a program with hopes it may ease this transition. 

Barry Wolf, director of peer mentoring and academic recovery, came to Albion in 2004. He is a psychologist and used to work in Counseling Services before taking over as director of the FYE program in 2014. He has always been passionate about helping others.

“It was interesting for me to think about how to design a program that would help a large number of people,” Wolf said. 

Wolf says FYE courses are set up as follows: Students attend their FYE class, which is run by a professor that doubles as their advisor, three times weekly. On a fourth day during the week, they attend a community meeting. These community meetings are run by upperclassmen student mentors. 

Student mentors lead community meetings weekly which are an opportunity for first-years and transfer students to ask questions about the Albion College experience and build relationships.

Wolf works closely with the student mentors, something he says he’s happy to do. 

 “I get to work with amazing students who are super passionate about helping other people and are just kind and empathetic and interpersonal ninjas,” Wolf said. “I’m honored to get to do that work with them.” 

 Lilianna Robinson and Claire Nickerson, both seniors from Battle Creek, have been mentors for the FYE program in years past.

“You’re their friend but also a little above that,” Robinson said. “You can relate on a different level than a teacher but also at a mentor level you can help because as a student, you can see a different view and relate to the student.”  

While larger schools have similar programs, there is something unique about Albion’s small campus Nickerson said, adding that the FYE program incorporates every student who attends Albion. 

“I think that the FYE program really helps enhance the community that we have at Albion College,” Nickerson said. “It’s not like anyone can slip through the cracks with a program like that.”

Building community among first-years at Albion is not all that the FYE Program accomplishes though. Nickerson said that the FYE student mentors develop a relationship of their own throughout the process of mentorship. 

“Being an FYE mentor is its own community,” Nickerson said. “Like with Greek life and sports, it has that same kind of feel. You know all the mentors that you’re mentoring with.” 

First-years and transfer students arrive on campus a week early in the fall. During this time, FYE mentors and mentees get to know one another. Both Robinson and Nickerson shared the same favorite experience as mentors: Mentor training.

Robinson described it as high energy and exciting.

 “We all get hype, figure out the program and what we’re supposed to do,” she said.  

Nickerson remembers training fondly as well.

“We did a ton of games with them in the quad for three hours on one of their orientation days, and we did a scavenger hunt,” she said. “When we weren’t with our mentees, we were with each other doing team bonding. That whole week was really fun.”

Many on-campus student employment opportunities, like FYE mentorship, encourage students to try new things and enhance their skills for future career paths. Being a student mentor is one of several jobs students can apply for, and Robinson shares advice for potential applicants.

 “It will definitely help you not only break out of your shell, but practice leadership roles and networking with more people,” Robinson said. “Being a mentor can be scary because it is a big role, but I think it’s a good step for someone to take.”

For students intrigued by the experiences shared by Nickerson and Robinson, applications for FYE mentors close Tuesday and can be acquired by emailing Wolf at bwolf@albion.edu.

About Heidi Faramelli 11 Articles
Heidi Faramelli is a sophomore English Creative Writing major and Communication Studies minor from Angola, Indiana. She finds joy in telling people-centered stories and giving the outspoken a platform to tell their stories. Contact Heidi via email at HKF10@albion.edu.

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