It’s the second week of school and while you’ve changed your major for the fifth time or taken up printmaking, your highly accomplished peers of the CSA Peer Advising Program have decided to help freshmen avoid the same mistakes you’ve made. Bwog sat down with Phillip Fletcher (CC ‘13) and Amanda Suarez (CC ‘14) to discuss what their new positions entail and how they got into the business of role-playing.
Bwog: So, what exactly do you guys do?
Phillip: Well, the program was the brainchild of Jared Odessky.
Amanda: He was the student representative. He wrote an article in The Spec about the need for a peer advising in the realm of the Center of Student Advising. Other schools have peer advising programs so that prompted a reevaluation and this pilot program by the Center for Student Advising called the Peer Advising program. There are 8 peer advisors, 6 from CC, 2 from SEAS. We’re sort of another layer of community and where students come with their concerns and also to hear from other students’ past experiences and feedback.
Bwog: Do students elect to meet with you? How does that work?
P: We work on an office hours schedule. So we’ll be there [the Center for Student Advising] from 5 to 8 Monday, Tuesday. Wednesdays, we’re in John Jay Dining Hall on Wednesdays and then on Thursday 5 to 8 again in…
A: 403 Lerner.
P: Yeah exactly, so people just come by. It’s good because we’re there when the advisors go home. They’re usually there 9-5 so when you have your late night, “Oh my god, I need an answer,” we’re there. Another reason it was created, which is why I sort of bought into it, is that a lot of people are in clubs or athletics where you can ask a senior, “What should I take?” but not everyone is in a club or an athletic team so this will provide that for them. And it’s really exactly the same except we’re better trained and more official.
Bwog: How did the CSA select you?
P: There was an application process. The CSA sent out an e-mail earlier and then we applied. They chose a few of us to interview and then there was a selection committee with Jared and some advising deans.
Bwog: Do you just advise on academic issues? What kind of questions do you get? What are you told to advise on?
P: We had a week-long training program. Before NSOP, we had intensive training where basically every department told us what we needed to know. We’ve done advising sessions with the advisors.
A: Lots of role-playing. A lot of conversations where they pretend they’re students.
P: And then we also answer questions like, “Well, I don’t know what clubs I should join.” We’re not there to tell them what clubs they should join, but we are there to point them in the right direction to just give them a better idea of what’s out there. Between the eight of us, we do a lot of things so we were chosen because we might have a better idea of what is out there. There are certainly things we’re not supposed to talk about because it’s just not appropriate and we’ll direct them to the right place. We’ve received training for that.
Bwog: What is a question that’s thrown you off-guard?
A: Other than advising during NSOP, we haven’t really gotten too many crazy questions. A lot of them have been very academic. A lot of nervous questions about registration and classes.
P: Yeah, the big question is whether they should take 4 or 5 classes this semester. That’s the one I’ve heard most.
Bwog: So, do you feel like these questions are specifically “peer” oriented? It seems like questions like whether someone should take 4-5 classes are pretty standard and one that an advisor can answer.
P: Right. Well one of the things that we’ll call upon that I don’t think the CSA does is CULPA because it’s not an official Columbia resource, but it is a resource. So that’s something that we’re allowed to do because we’re casual employment.
A: And I think it just comes out differently when your advisor is telling you to take 4 or 5 classes than when you have a peer advisor. For example, in my personal academic experience I took 4 classes both semesters of my freshmen year, I plan on studying abroad and I’m double majoring. That kind of confidence we give that this sort of thing is doable is really great. It’s brought to life.
Bwog: How else do you guys advertise yourselves, other than office hours?
P: Well, I know we’re planning on having a study break sometime this semester.
A: And in terms of social media, we’ve been developing a strong presence on Twitter, Facebook, online.
[This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.]