What started out as an initiative to help students learn ancient Greek and Latin has blossomed into a valuable exercise in student self-reflection at Brock University.
In 2013, the university’s classics department started a peer mentor program, enlisting senior undergrads to help first- and second-year students. But Roberto Nickel, an assistant professor who oversees the peer mentorship program, says the mentors are themselves learning valuable skills in the process, too.
The department recruits top fourth-year students as volunteer mentors each year to help other students in everything from Greek and Latin courses and essay writing, to offering advice on what courses to take and scholarships to apply for. But the opportunity teaches the peer mentors plenty in return.
“Often, I find that with the peer mentors they are, obviously, our best students, but they’ve never actually had to think about why they are the best students. Why are their essay grades so much higher than everyone else’s? Why do they do so well in languages?” says Dr. Nickel. “It gives them a much more objective intellectual appreciation of why they are successful, which of course allows them to transmit that knowledge to their peers.”
Michael Romen, a fourth-year classics major, is one of the peer mentors for the 2019-2020 school year. He says he sees his role as someone who can help students navigate the system.
“I remember when I was in first year and I had no idea what the heck I was doing. So, just being able to take my experience and help in … the first year, where no one really knows what they’re doing, is something I enjoy,” Mr. Romen says, adding that he spends most of his time as a mentor helping students with writing essays.
Mr. Romen, who wants to be a teacher, agrees with Dr. Nickel’s observation that the program benefits everyone involved. “It’s a nice opportunity to get that [teaching] experience working with students in developing their writing skills,” he says.
Both Dr. Nickel and Mr. Romen believe that the program helps create a community among classics students, especially since first- and second-year students tend to be more comfortable talking to their peer mentors than they are seeking out their professors. “From my experience, a lot of students are kind of nervous, talking to their profs,” Mr. Romen says. “We’re a little bit less intimidating, mostly because we are undergraduate students [too].”
Since the peer mentor program started, Dr. Nickel says he’s seen attrition of the first-year Greek language course drop from 30 percent to zero, but that it’s hard to say whether this was due to the peer mentors or lower course enrolment numbers.
Nevertheless, it is a program that Dr. Nickel says the department will continue, for the sake of mentees and mentors alike.