Student Mentors Leading the Way

September 30, 2022

The First-Year Engagement Office and mentors help students get connected

Students working at a table

Starting college is an exciting moment in most students' lives. It’s a time to make friends, expand horizons and enjoy new experiences. But it can also be nerve-wracking to live away from home for the first time. For some, it is a challenge to learn how to balance academics, a social life and health. According to Dr. Raúl Zendejas, UIW’s director of First-Year Engagement (FYE), this is where the FYE Office comes into play.

“The First-Year Engagement Office, in my opinion, is the ultimate resource for first-year students,” shared Zendejas. “We help students connect with resources outside of the classroom, whether that is strategies for academic success or meeting new people through Campus Engagement events.”

With 941 first-year students this year, this is a large task, but Zendejas says he relies on six student mentors to help him guide those who most need help. Mentees are traditionally selected based on high school academic performance and test scores. Each of the six mentors is assigned a group of mentees based on their major. For example, a Psychology student who is a mentor works with other students who have majors in the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences. First-year engagement barbeque

These mentors are leaders outside of the classroom who provide another connection for the new students. Mentors and mentees are introduced at a barbecue kickoff event that Zendejas says “is just a fun event” that helps break the ice and provides an opportunity for everyone to make friends outside of a classroom setting. Once they are introduced, the mentors help the new Cardinals get connected on campus.

“I’m a very friendly person and I’m very outgoing, so I like to make the new students feel comfortable talking to me,” said Marialuisa Ramirez, a sophomore Nursing major who is a first-time mentor. “I like to tell them about activities and invite them to go. I share how they can get more involved around campus and how I made friends; I really like to tell them my experiences to hopefully help them.”

Zendejas notes that, although he does his best to help students who are struggling, it is sometimes better to hear about how another student dealt with similar challenges and to know that they persevered and made it through.

“When mentors are talking to their mentees, they're talking about some of the challenges they had as a first-year student, and how they transitioned into their sophomore, junior, and senior years,” shared Zendejas. “They talk about how they are now able to lead other students. I think the benefits of the mentorship program are invaluable because they can hear from another student.”

“I know what they are going through, and the struggles of finding a group of friends to talk to,” added Jose Ochoa, a sophomore Art major and first-time mentor. “I’m a sophomore and have been in their shoes, so it’s easy to relate to them and to be an outlet for them.”

In addition to helping first-year students get connected on campus, the FYE Office also plans to host other events for the mentorship program, such as coffee talks with mentors. But not everything they host is a social event. They also have workshops during the semester to help students who want to talk about strategies to improve in the classroom. Ultimately, Zendejas says, his office exists to help students succeed.

“The immediate benefit of the FYE Office is getting new students connected with support and resources that go beyond the classroom. The long-term benefits are getting those same students to graduation and helping them become well-rounded people.”

Learn more about UIW First-Year Engagement