The First-Year Interest Group (FIG) program, coordinated by the School of Undergraduate Studies (UGS), is vital to welcoming freshmen students to campus and aiding them as they undergo such a big transition. But too often, the peer mentors who are meant to lead FIG weekly seminars are rather underprepared themselves.
Each mentor takes part in a semester-long, biweekly training, which covers topics such as “difficult dialogue” and “cultural proficiency.” The goal of the semester-long training is to enhance the students’ leadership skills, but it offers few opportunities to actually do so.
The class consists of one large lecture and one small discussion section each week. Mentors only have one opportunity the entire semester to actually practice leading a seminar: a five-minute presentation on an assigned topic.
“I have had to speak for more than 30 minutes at a time, which is a very different thing,” said Brooklyn Rodgers, government junior and College of Liberal Arts’ Law and Order FIG mentor.
Covering topics such as difficult dialogue and cultural proficiency are extremely important, but rather than allowing the future FIG mentors to practice teaching and talking about these concepts, they are lectured over it twice by the course instructors.
In fact, six of the 10 small group sessions mentors-in-training must attend throughout the semester consist of a “lecture debrief.” This time could be better spent by allowing the trainees themselves to prepare lecture debriefs and present them under the instructor’s supervision.
“With the number of students in the class and the number of weeks in the semester that we have class, there isn't enough time for each student to do more than one oral presentation,” wrote Lisa Valdez, UGS senior program coordinator. “Every year, we look at ways to improve and change the curriculum, so this could definitely be one area we look at.”
During these group sessions, a number of seminar topics are suggested for mentors to present on in the upcoming fall semester. However, some of the seminar topics that are encouraged by the training program overlap with topics covered at freshman orientation.
“Our weekly FIG meetings were resourceful but sometimes redundant,” English sophomore Fatima Perez said. “Some information discussed is information we already knew from orientation.”
This redundancy could be mitigated if mentors were simply given a brief rundown on topics already covered by the incoming class’s orientation.
Furthermore, while a FIG mentor will always be assigned to mentor a FIG within their own college, the small group discussions during training will include students from various colleges, which can hinder one’s ability to learn more about resources specific to their own college.
“It would have made more sense to … connect us with other mentors in a group that we could interact with throughout our actual mentoring semester,” Rodgers said.
Only the last two meetings are college-specific. Rodgers says she found these meetings to be most helpful because other COLA FIG mentors who already worked at least one semester were brought in to give advice based on their experiences.
Rodgers says that instead of spreading out the training over an entire semester, the training could be conducted through a couple of conference-like training days, during which students work with other mentors from their specific college, with multiple dates available so mentors can fit it into their own schedules.
With a couple of small adjustments to the training program, FIG mentors will be much better prepared for leading groups of freshmen. These freshmen would subsequently be much better prepared for the rest of their college careers.
Jonker is a government and American studies senior from Flower Mound, Texas.