Staying at home and social distancing does not have to be done alone. As we continue navigating the world in a pandemic, some of us may need some academic assistance or human interaction. The peer mentoring programs at CSUSB are in full swing to help students find their ways through these uncertain times.
Barbara Herrera, a Student Mentoring Program Coordinator, gives us a glimpse of how the program has evolved into virtual mentoring. Herrera talks about the four types of mentoring programs that serve the CSUSB students. Herrera says, “This fall has been kind of challenging with incoming freshman and transfer students because they are coming in from a virtual platform, and we are missing that in person face to face contact. What we have done in this virtual setting is we have tried to make the meetings as engaging as possible. We still have one on one meetings and we still tailor to each student need.”
Herrera states that students can choose to meet on Zoom, Microsoft teams, Facetime, or their phone, and the Peer Mentoring Program will meet them there.
She also emphasizes the importance of taking breaks. Herrera says, “We take a break from academic and ask ‘what do you want to talk about?’ We understand, especially now in this environment, it is hard to separate work, school, and life because it’s all in one now.”
Herrera talks about all the benefits students gain from being a part of the program. She states, “students have a sense of belonging, they feel confident in getting involved and talking to faculty, they make lifelong friends, and feel more prepared as students.”
Justine Romasanta, a third year psychology major, is one of the peer mentors that is currently providing virtual mentoring. She talks about some of the struggles she faces. Romasanta says, “The biggest struggle as a student mentor is definitely student engagement.” For Romasanta one of the biggest challenges of mentoring virtually is the virtual setting. She explains, “When we were in-person the mentors were able to recognize facial expressions, body language, and live reactions.”
Romasanta shared some ways that the mentors are dealing with these issues such as collaborating ideas on connecting with students. The new platform is different, but it is adaptable to fit student needs. Romasanta says, “For example, some mentors like to have a themed week, where one week you wear your favorite outfit, or you bring your pet to the Zoom call.”
As a mentee turned mentor, Romasanta wanted to pay her experience forward because of how much the program gave to her. She understands how hard the college transition is for first generation students who have limited resources at home. She says, “My mentor actually helped me on a personal and academic level. I wanted to do the same for other students.” Her journey with the mentor program has inspired her to continue her education in counseling.
Ignacio Vera, a communications major, is another mentor who opened up about the struggles of the virtual world. He says, “In the virtual setting, being a peer mentor and trying to show students that I am just like them and going through the same things as them, takes longer to convey.”
Like Romasanta, Vera reiterated the difficulties of reading body languages. Vera says, “In person, you can pick up when someone finishes their sentence and it’s a lot easier to read someone’s body language when they talk. In the online setting, there are a lot of awkward silences and sometimes miscommunications when speaking with another person.”
Vera remains optimistic about virtual mentoring, he says, “This online setting promotes you to be creative when attempting to connect with students. Things just take time, patience is key, and since this is the first full year meeting with students online, there is a lot of room to grow and become familiar with meeting people online and working with students online.”
Like Romasanta, Vera wants to provide the support he was given as a previous mentee to other students. “My first year took a bad turn and I remember feeling like no one else really knew what it felt like to have this happen,” shares Vera. “My peer mentor at the time really gave me support. He directed me to useful resources provided by CSUSB and gave me emotional support.”
Remembering some of his darkest times at CSUSB, Vera stated, “I remember having thoughts that college wasn’t for me at the time.” Vera’s mentor, who supports him to this day, got him through it. He says, “That feeling of hopefulness and encouragement is something I want to give to my current and future students/peers. I want to give them hope through their struggles and give them emotional support in a very rough time in the world.”
Karina Zepeda is a business administration major and a mentor who will be gradating Spring of 2021. Zepeda talks about some of the issues she has faced personally and as a mentor during the pandemic. Zepeda says, “My number one struggle that I have had due to the program going virtual is being able to establish boundaries between my job and life. Because we are all working from home, it gets hard sometimes to differentiate work time from school time, and even ‘me’ time.”
None of these issues derail Zepeda from giving back to the mentor program.
Zepeda says, “I became a mentor because growing up I never really had any one to talk to or guide me. I know how hard it can be not knowing if you are on track, if you are doing the right thing, or if you’re even going in the right direction.” Zepeda experienced some rough times as a freshman but she says, “when I joined the Student Mentoring Program, my mentor helped me so much during my transition to the university. I finally felt like I had a sense of direction and belonging to CSUSB.
During these hard times Zepeda say, “I wish students would know that we are always here for you, whether you did or didn’t have the opportunity to sign up at orientation, we are always here. We are students just like you, who know these struggles of coming into a new university or environment.”
Romasanta says, “One thing that I want students at CSUSB to know about the program is that the Student Mentoring Program has a lot of heart. The 40+ mentors within this program have so much compassion, drive, and resiliency. We put in so much effort to ensure the success of our students, and I know that this program makes an impact. Follow us on Instagram @csusbsmp.”
Student Mentoring Program – Website: Student Mentoring Program, Instagram accounts: @csusbsmp, LINK- @csusb_link, Pan-African Collegiate Scholars- @csusb_pacs, Virtual Ambassadors- @virtualambassadors_csusb