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Dickinson College Launches Peer-mentor Program

A.C.E. program mentors and mentees met for the first time during a welcome social at Landis House.

Dickinson's first cohort of ACE mentees met their peer mentors the first week of September during a Welcome Social at Landis House.

Program adds additional layer of support for students from historically underrepresented communities

by MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

A new program launches this fall to help enrich the experiences of students from historically underrepresented communities. The Academic and Co-Curricular Excellence Peer Mentor (ACE) program pairs 40 first-year students, including students of color, first-generation students and international students, with 20 peer mentors who provide on-the-ground help on matters ranging from how to most effectively ask a professor for help to where to find the best off-campus spots for a haircut or a snack.

One of many inclusivity efforts at Dickinson, the ACE program is one of two peer-mentoring programs for first-years. While the classwide first-year mentor program supports all new Dickinsonians as they learn to navigate their critical first year on campus, the ACE program provides an additional layer of support and gives students from underrepresented communities a built-in network of peers who "get it" and can share what they’ve learned.

“This program is important, because it lets students from underrepresented communities know from the very beginning that they can build community here, and that there are people here invested in their success,” says Vincent Stephens, director of the Popel Shaw Center for Race & Ethnicity, who proposed the ACE program last fall and selected the first cohort of mentors in the spring.

Each of the 40 mentors completed an application process that included questions about what they learned from their own mentoring experiences, their academic records and campus involvement, and their identification with underrepresented groups.

After learning of their acceptance into the program, the mentors-in-training enrolled in a six-week seminar that covered best practices in peer mentoring, available campus resources, ethics education and cross-cultural communication. Under supervision of Popel Shaw Center staff, they then co-developed a campus guide for incoming first-year students. They celebrated their graduation from the program during an April ceremony.

“This was the most impressive group of students I’ve worked with in any program,” says Stephens, noting that the cohort includes this year’s two Shuman Award-winners.

The 40 mentees were selected by Christian Perry, assistant director of the Popel Shaw Center, who oversees the program. The mentees met each other and their peer mentors during the first week of September, and they’ll continue to meet with their mentors informally and at scheduled informational and social events. These include an October escape room outing in Harrisburg and a mocktail mixer, bringing the first-year students together with faculty and administrators. Game Night in Landis House is planned for November along with a community-service information session, at which mentees will connect with local community leaders and learn how they can get involved in Carlisle as volunteers if they wish.

While the mentors gain valuable skills as they develop student resources and work with Popel Center staff to plan and present information sessions and social events, the mentees will gain a support network as they learn the ropes of college life. The Popel Shaw Center also plans to work with ACE alumni, including occasional follow-up workshops that meet the needs of students after they graduate from the program, such as sessions about study-abroad options during sophomore year.

“Ultimately, we hope that after they graduate from the program, some of the mentees will also become mentors,” says Perry. “That will give them valuable bullet points they can put on a resume but also give them a chance to play an important part in someone’s life, and be part of a lasting legacy.”

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Published September 16, 2019