Jan. 6, 2020Print | PDF
Peer mentors are integral to the success of academic support programming at Wilfrid Laurier University. That fact made the institution a welcome addition to the recent Learning Specialists Association of Canada Eastern Conference, where peer mentors and professional staff from Laurier's Brantford campus took centre stage.
During the conference, participants probed questions including how to best engage students as partners in developing and delivering professional learning support programming and how to create learning environments outside of the classroom where collaboration, inclusivity and resiliency are encouraged and celebrated.
Staff and student mentors from Laurier’s department of Learning Skills and Development and Indigenous Student Centre on Brantford campus shared their hands-on experiences during conference presentations.
“This was my first time presenting at a conference in an academic environment and it was nerve-wracking,” says student Delores Maas, who serves as a senior peer mentor to Indigenous students studying at Laurier’s Brantford campus. “I am a student who encounters just as many issues and academic challenges as the students I meet with.”
"We are helping students when they’re facing challenges and championing their moments of success.”
During a conference session titled “Decolonizing Learning Support for Indigenous Students”, Maas and Indigenous Student Support Coordinator Margaret Neveau shared how a partnership between Learning Skills and Development and the Indigenous Student Centre works to decolonize learning support, leading to greater academic success for Indigenous students. The support model used by the departments focuses on five main pillars: safe environments, personal relationships, sharing circles, modelling behaviour and communities of peer mentorship.
Co-presenter Karley Doucette, a writing and learning support coordinator, says Laurier’s collaborative approach provides Indigenous students with culturally relevant, safe and holistic learning support.
“We are unique in that we have a dedicated peer mentor for Indigenous students,” says Doucette. “I wanted Delores to present at the conference to showcase the impact of the work she’s been doing on Indigenizing the learning space in Brantford.”
Maas, an Indigenous Studies student, helps students during one-on-one learning skills appointments and leads collaborative group programs including workshops and writing circles. Neveau says Maas is a conscientious mentor who inspires students with her knowledge and ability to create space for students to share and support one another.
Maas came to Laurier as a mature student. She applied for the position of peer mentor two years ago because of her own experience as an adult learner returning to university.
“I felt insecure and out of place. There are other students on campus who might feel out of place or like they don’t have the right skills, but they belong here.”
The Learning Specialists Association of Canada conference brought together learning professionals from a variety of fields to spark conversations about new findings in learning research and methods for supporting learners.
Mikayla Peach, a student in Laurier’s Human Rights and Human Diversity program and senior peer mentor with Learning Skills and Development, also presented during the conference. Together with fellow senior peer mentor Pilar Vergara-King and Doucette, Peach co-led a workshop that outlined the structure and outcomes of Laurier’s Goals, Plans, Achievement (GPA) program.
Offered to students in Brantford, the GPA program helps those who are struggling academically and those who want to reach their full academic potential through regular one-on-one check-in meetings with peer mentors and learning-skills workshops.
“Sometimes mentors are teaching a new study skill, a learning strategy, providing writing support, or celebrating the student’s achievements,” says Doucette. “This is a resiliency-building program – we are helping students when they’re facing challenges and championing their moments of success.”
Vergara-King’s experience with the GPA program began before her role as a peer mentor. She was a participant in the GPA program during her first two years at Laurier.
“I built a lot of confidence during the GPA program and I know where my strengths and skills are,” says Vergara-King. “During appointments, we are validating students’ ideas and focusing on problem solving rather than giving them the ‘right’ answer. I was able to apply this collaborative teaching and learning approach to the conference presentation.”
The Learning Specialists Association of Canada is a voluntary, national association for professionals who focus on the application of learning theory in higher education. By offering instruction in learning strategies and study skills, association members support and further the educational goals of students, faculty, staff and school administrators. More information about the association can be found at learningspecialists.ca.
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