Peer Mentors Help Smooth the Way for New Students
Acclimating to law school can be daunting. Students pursuing their legal education come from every walk of life, some directly from undergraduate school, others with work experience or graduate studies under their belt. But for all, the life of a law student is unfamiliar and often intimidating territory. With that in mind, Southwestern's Orientation planners saw a need to personalize the support system for new students from day one.
Since 2009, the Peer Mentors Program has been a key element of the annual First-year Orientation, providing a supportive team of upper division students who help guide their new fellow students, connect them with the variety of resources at the law school, and foster a sense of community, developing their own leadership skills in the process. This year, more than 40 students are serving as peer mentors.
Robert Mena, Assistant Dean for Student Affairs at Southwestern, explained the importance of the Peer Mentors Program. "Before starting law school, entering students are reading every blog, book, journal article or talking to individuals about how cut-throat, difficult and flat-out depressing the first year of law school will be," he said. "The Peer Mentor Program is a symbol of why Southwestern is different. Here, colleagues mentor colleagues. It's a symbol of who we are while you're in law school and what you can expect when you start the legal profession - Southwestern grads take care of Southwestern grads."
Vincent Nguyen and Sherin Parikh, both third-year day students, said that when they were 1Ls, having a peer mentor - a friendly face who welcomed them to Southwestern and eagerly answered all of their questions - made a big difference.
"My peer mentor was Crystal Chen '13," Parikh said. "Coming in as a new student, I had very little knowledge about how law school works and what was required to succeed. Crystal was my first line of defense. She helped me set goals in the very beginning to see what was important. Without her advice and support, I would not have been able to succeed to the level that I have or take advantage of all the opportunities Southwestern has to offer."
The peer mentors help set up Orientation and are there for the new students from the moment they arrive. In addition to guiding them through the activities of the day, they host a table of their mentees at lunch enabling the first-year students to get to know each other and their mentor better. Peer mentors are also available to provide informal advice throughout the year.
Based on their positive experiences, both Parikh and Nguyen were inspired to pay it forward and become mentors themselves.
"I wanted to make a positive impact on someone's life," said Nguyen, who is now a board member of the Peer Mentors Program. "I wanted to be someone who students felt comfortable talking to about anything and at any point during the ups and downs of their busy 1L life. As a peer mentor last year, I was able to do that and build a relationship with 12 different students that will continue long after my time at Southwestern is up."
Some of the most important advice he gave to his incoming mentees was to rethink how they prepare for assignments and exams. "For incoming students, I believe the hardest part is the transition from undergrad, where instead of studying for a final two days before, you now have to put in the time and effort for the full semester," Nguyen said. "I told my mentees that if they looked at law school like a job and went to class and put in some hours after class for reading and outlining, then they'll have some free time to relax at the end of each night, while still being successful in school. Law school can be fun if you approach it right."