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Peer Mentoring Program Helps Students in Science and Technology Fields

(L-R)  Evan Dunkley, John Elliot, Alex Abbate
(L-R) Evan Dunkley, John Elliot, Alex Abbate

Students studying biology, chemistry, physics, geology, mathematics and computer science are getting extra help from Keene State College, and from their own peers. Keene State created the B.E.S.T. (Building Excellence in Science and Technology) Program this past year to help students navigate these fields that can sometimes be intimidating. The B.E.S.T. Program is comprised of peer mentoring, a living- learning community on campus, a focus on impactful faculty interaction, and undergraduate research.

B.E.S.T. Peer Mentoring

The B.E.S.T. peer mentoring initiative puts an undergraduate student who is successful in the curriculum right in the classroom, research lab, or living-learning community with beginning students. The mentor is called a Peer Course Assistant (PCA). The PCA attends class, facilitates group discussions, gets to know the students, and holds three hours of drop-in study sessions outside of class each week. Students have a known and trusted peer who can help them succeed. Research shows that this approach is more effective than traditional one-on-one mentoring.

The mentoring program is coordinated by Megan Ferm ’12, who studied chemistry and mathematics/physics. “I honestly believe that with a little bit of extra help students can make a lot of progress—especially first-generation students, who might need more support,” she said.

Students and Faculty Make Mentoring Program Successful

Alex Abbate, a junior PCA from Keene majoring in biology, says the mentoring program not only helps the students, but the mentors as well. “It’s exciting to watch someone understand the course work if they didn’t before,” she said. “It’s also beneficial to me. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else.”

“It’s good to have the feeling at the end of the day that I helped someone when they were struggling,” said Evan Dunkley, a Sophomore PCA from Hinsdale, NH, majoring in chemistry and safety studies. “Some students are thinking about changing their major, and I can help to show them that they can handle the course work.”

“I don’t want students to give up on their work, so I tried to make a connection with everyone one who showed up for the study sessions,” said John Elliot, a senior PCA from Litchfield, NH, majoring in chemistry. “Several students told me I helped them pass their course.”

According to math professor Karen Stanish, faculty support is crucial to the success of the program. “We’re starting to meet with individual departments so they will understand the program and give us some feedback,” she said. “We’ve received some good ideas about ways to tweak the program that would really benefit the departments and help the students.”

“We are seeing significant participation from students who have a PCA actively the classroom,” said Ferm. “In one section of general chemistry that has a PCA in the classroom, just about 50% of those students have been to at least one drop-in study session.”