15:10 PM

'I think I can do it': SEA student says peer mentoring helped him gain confidence

A new student’s first year of college can be exciting and overwhelming, all at the same time. Adjusting to a new environment, new people, and steering through an entirely different set of academic expectations can be enough to make some decide that college is not for them. This is where a peer mentor can step in and significantly impact a new student’s experience.

Joshua Lyman, a senior pursuing his Bachelor of Arts  in Communication at University of Houston-Clear Lake, is among five African-American peer mentors in the university’s pilot Summer Engagement Academy, an eight-week program offering credited courses and an array of academic resources designed to help close the achievement gap among at-risk students.

He has been mentoring Emond Jackson, who graduated from Kipp Sunnyside High School in the spring. Jackson, a first-generation college student,  is one of 14 students participating in the Academy.

“I decided to become a peer mentor because I thought it would open my horizons to do other things,” Lyman said. “It was an opportunity to get better leadership and communication skills, and to reach out and help wherever I could.”

He thinks the program is making big impacts. “I was fortunate enough to make a smooth transition in to UH-Clear Lake, but I know not everyone will be in that position,” he said. “That’s why I want to help give new students the knowledge about what they can expect, and use that information to the best of their abilities and navigate through college.”

He said that by developing a structure, a schedule, and a supportive setting in which questions can be asked and answered, the new students could envision themselves staying at UHCL and completing their degrees.

“We are taking this seriously now,” he said. “Being in this program is an opportunity that a lot of people might not get. So, if they’re doing well in courses now, keep developing that because it will affect how they do later. It’s easier to drop your GPA than it is to pick it back up, so I’m telling everyone, take the time to study, start strong, and make it a pattern.”

Lyman said he tells his mentees that he has had to practice the same things. “I have to be consistent with my own work ethic, and I’m trying to portray it so they can follow,” he said.

He’s learned that mentorship is not a one-way relationship. “I’m not only sharing my experiences, but I’m gaining from them as well,” he said. “How can I communicate better? How can I lead others? It’s about learning, but also about gaining friendships and enjoying college.”

Together, Lyman said, the group has gone to the Rec and Wellness Center and played basketball, gone to movies, and had Friday “hang-out time.”

“We talk about how their classes are going and about their feelings about being at UHCL,” he said. “The group is blending well together. Some of the 14 new students are probably going to other universities, but I’m hoping most of them will decide to stay here.”

Jackson said he saw his mentor in the mornings in the residence hall, in the dining hall, and in study hall. He believes his experience in the academy has helped him learn what he needs to know, no matter where he ultimately decides to go to college.

“Josh has helped me a lot with my math class, but he has also told me to be prepared for times when I would need to do things on my own,” he said. “I need to be able to rely on myself. But I have had a lot of help since I first started here. The important thing is, I know what college will be like before I start my freshman year.”

He added that during his time in the academy, he has gained confidence. Although he’s not completely sure what he wants to study, and he would like to take time off and start college next spring instead of this fall, he believes his academy experience has helped him get off to a strong start.

“At first, I didn’t see myself getting a college degree,” he said. “But now, after I have been here, and I have worked with Josh, I think I can do it. I can see myself getting a college degree now.”

Even though he knows it won’t be easy, the academy has shown him there are resources to support him through his academic journey.

“I know now that if I feel like I am going to struggle, I can go somewhere and get help so I won’t feel stressed out,” he said. “I know if I work hard, stay focused, and take it seriously, I can succeed. I can’t think like I did back in high school. None of this is like high school work. These classes I’m taking are for a degree for my future.”

For more information about the Summer Engagement Academy, visit www.uhcl.edu/student-success-center/summer-engagement-academy.