JTA program seeks to mentor students, help them evolve

Sept. 24, 2012

April Wefler
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The freshman seminar. Many of us have been there, wondering what to expect from college and whom we’ll meet. In the latter case, the first person may be a junior teaching assistant.

This year, the JTA program had more than 80 students with at least one JTA per section in all of the freshman seminars. The program was designed to coincide with the freshman seminar with the premise that it fosters student mentors.

Students who are JTAs are required to participate in an online peer-mentoring component, which Carrie Arnold, academic fitness instructor and peer mentor in the freshman seminar department, oversees.

“It’s designed to synthesize what they’re seeing, experiencing in freshman seminar,” Arnold said. She added that the online peer mentoring allows the JTAs to see whether or not they’re helping students and know whether a student is in trouble.

“It’s practical training in the freshman seminar,” she said. Arnold noted that she thought there was a peer mentor piece missing from the freshman seminar and that people thought it would be good to have students who had gone through the freshman seminar before help out.

Although the JTAs are students, the peer mentoring teaches them how to handle different situations as a peer mentor – not a student. Arnold noted that they are still students and have to learn how to differentiate.

In the past, professors and instructors teaching the freshman seminars chose the students they thought would be interested in becoming a JTA. “Most instructors have a good eye for knowing what types of students would make good JTAs,” Arnold said.

However, the JTA program is still a work in progress. There’s a new book, a rewritten syllabus and, next year, students wishing to be a JTA will need a GPA of at least 3.0 and fill out an application.

Arnold explained that this year, many students accepted the position of JTA after being recommended by their professors, but when it came time to register, there were conflicting classes.

Students wishing to become a JTA need certain qualities, Arnold said. She noted that students can’t be introverted and have to be open and able to talk to people.

Additionally, students need to be patient, open-minded and flexible. “It’s not easy balancing the freshman seminar with regular class and the online component,” said Arnold.

They also need to know the services and resources available on campus in the event that a student has an issue, be motivated and take initiative.

The JTA program has mostly sophomores with some juniors and seniors. 98 percent of the JTAs have gone through the freshman seminar before.

Arnold said that there’s a really good mix of students. “They all have to want to be there and it shows. They all understand the nature of the position and the work that goes into it,” she said.

She also thinks peer mentoring is an extremely valuable tool for students. “You not only learn about the experience of the students you’re mentoring but also gain learning experience yourself.”

“I think the emotional experience that you gain is immeasurable,” she added, saying that the JTA program helps mentors grow, mature and learn a lot about themselves. “Never forget where you came from.”