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Better to give than to receive for peer advisers

Chris Singleton, left, and Seamus Dwyer are peer advisers.


By Janet Harron

The season of goodwill to all men (and women) is upon us, but arts students Chris Singleton and Seamus Dwyer live that philosophy year-round.

The second-year students and Dean's List recipients for 2011-12 both work as peer advisers in the Academic Advising Centre's Establishing Student Relationships Program (ESRP).

Peer advisers build relationships with incoming first-semester students, answering questions and providing them with support during the application and registration process. The program, which was established in 2004, focuses on applicants who are currently finishing high school in the province, in other Canadian provinces or internationally. The program operates out of the Academic Advising Centre on the St. John's campus and the Office of the Registrar at Grenfell Campus and is directed by the Application to Registration Working Group.

"It is the collaborative spirit of the program that makes it such a success in helping prepare students for Memorial, but it is the student-to-prospective student contact that really determines the success of the program," said Roxanne Preston, associate director, Office of Student Recruitment and co-chair of the working group.

"All of the support units that work with prospective and first-year students come together on this working group to ensure we are providing the peer advisers with the best information to help prepare incoming students," said Julie Green, associate registrar, Academic Advising and Outreach, and co-chair. "That inter- and intra-campus co-operation and communications makes the program effective and also fosters great relationships within the Memorial community to serve our common goal of helping students."

"It puts a human voice to MUN," said St. John's native Chris Singleton, who worked at the guidance centre at his high school prior to coming to Memorial to study psychology. "Students have so many questions – all the stuff you have to apply for, send in and all the requirements – it can be very overwhelming. When they talk to us, it gives them peace of mind because they are talking to a peer who has gone through the process recently."

International student Seamus Dwyer agrees.

"We make phone calls to prospective first-year students, walk them through applications and admissions and ensure that they are on the right track with all the forms."

The peer advisers also use the MUNlive online chat service to explain the often-confusing workings of the university and to provide information prospective students would have difficulty accessing directly. The one thing peer advisers do not give advice on is academics, however.

"There's a very strict rule about that," explained Mr. Dwyer, who is originally from New York but moved to St. John's when his father took a job at St. Bonaventure's College. "Our job is to lay the groundwork and give prospective students general information about the university. We don't give academic advice but we can refer them to different departments who can help."

The ESRP program is available at both the St. John's campus and Grenfell Campus. ESRP staff regularly seek input from a variety of university-wide offices including Admissions, Housing, Scholarships and International Student Advising.
Jennifer White, an ESRP co-ordinator who currently supervises Mr. Singleton and Mr. Dwyer, says the students are provided with training and support in order to answer a wide variety of questions from prospective students. But it is their personal investment in the program that really makes a difference, she says.
"It is hard to instill the positive attitude and enthusiasm that Chris and Seamus display in their work through training — they come by it naturally. We are very happy to have them as representatives of Memorial and building relationships with future students."

Both men agree that advising their peers has been an amazing learning experience in itself.

"Every shift I work, I learn something new about MUN," said Mr. Singleton. "It's so massive and there are so many resources for students."

"It helps us individually and with our friends," said Mr. Dwyer. "It's a really big thing with the students coming in – what you want to do now isn't necessarily what you'll want to do in the future. That comes back to the peer part."