Student mentoring program launched

February 13, 2015 Latest Print Print
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Now “happily married with kids” and maintaining a 4.0 GPA, OCCC student Derek Scarsella said she never would have arrived where she is without mentors in her life.

“I’ve had mentors take an interest in me that changed the direction of my life,” she said.

“I was homeless. I dropped out of high school. I was pretty much a lost cause. But it just takes one mentor.

“That’s why I’m in this program. I want to be the example to people that things change.”

The program she is referring to is the Student 2 Student mentoring program that OCCC launched this semester for students who could use a little help from their friends.

Service and Engagement Liaison Stephen Morrow helped to create the Student 2 Student mentoring program from the ground up.

He said this program focuses on transformation, not just for students who benefit from the support of a mentor, but also for mentors themselves. Mentors have worked to find and develop their own strengths in order to help others, Morrow said.

“The program has one goal: to move the needle on student class-success and graduation rates,” he said.

“It’s a goal that reverberates deeply in my heart and deeply with my experiences as a teacher of 20-plus years.”

Scarsella, a diversified studies major with a focus on education, said she is glad for the opportunity to be one of OCCC’s first student mentors.

“This is the very first program of its kind to be offered at a community college in Oklahoma,” she said.

Morrow said mentors were selected during the fall semester for traits of leadership, kindness, empathy and perseverance in the face of adversity. They have been training for their new roles twice each week since the spring semester began.

He said those participating as mentors will receive a certificate of International Mentorship Status, a status usually reserved for those attending major universities. Morrow said that will serve the student mentors in leadership roles as they move forward.

The mentors’ last official training session will take place on Monday, Feb. 16, but a few will have met with mentees as early as the week of Feb. 9.

Morrow said students have already shown interest in meeting with peer mentors.

Scarsella has been a tutor on campus before and has worked previously with adult students. She said becoming part of Student 2 Student is her method for paying things forward.

“I’ve had mentors take an interest in me that changed the direction of my life,” she said.

Mentor Kylee Lewis said things they’ve learned in order to help their peers is applicable to their own lives. She said training relies heavily on self-improvement.

Scarsella agrees.

“Before you can help somebody better understand who they are, you’ve got to understand a little bit about yourself,” she said. “We’re honing in on what our strengths are and how to use those to empower our mentoring … and it happens fast. I teared up at the last meeting. It’s heavy work.”

Even before they’ve met their mentees, the mentors have become aware of the challenges ahead of them.

Lewis said she looks forward to overcoming such challenges.

“I’ve always liked to help other people and it’s a challenge for me because I’m very reserved … it’s going to be a challenge for me to get out of my comfort zone,” she said.

Scarsella said the mentors will benefit as well.

“We are going to be able to get support from each other as much as our mentees are getting support from us,” Scarsella said.

She said, as a group, the mentors are a valuable resource to each other; however, their focus remains on the success of OCCC students.

Lewis and Scarsella both said they are excited to get started.

Lewis said there’s no reason a student should hesitate to get support.

“I hope people don’t look at needing help as a kind of handicap,” she said.

Scarsella said she is ready to help her fellow students.

“Anybody who is struggling with scheduling their next semester or nailing down study habits or having a hard time getting to class on time, we are there to offer assistance.”

Lewis said even students who are simply having a bad day are welcome to meet with mentors. Any issue can be addressed, she said.

And, she said, while the mentors are not counselors, they are well trained to direct students toward whatever resources they need.

“If students come in with issues of drug addiction, or depression or anxiety, we can help,” she said. “We can refer them to the resources available here to get them help.”

Scarsella said together, students can help other students succeed.

“We are supposed to help students figure out what they want to do, and help them utilize their thoughts and their goals and their strengths to help the students work out what’s best for themselves,” she said.

“We’re friends with experience. We want [students] to approach us. We’re not professors. We’re not trying to dictate their lives and tell them what to do. We’re just there to listen to them and help them out how we can.”

Students interested in meeting with peer mentors, or those wanting to train as volunteers, should visit the Student Life office on the first floor of the Main Building or email Morrow at smorrow@occc.edu.

To contact Jorge Krzyzaniak, email seniorwriter@occc.edu

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