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Overcoming Loneliness With Help From Peers

College can be an exciting but also challenging time in someone’s life. The Peer2Peer Program helps students overcome loneliness, improve social skills and can enhance the college experience beyond the classroom. That was the goal for Montgomery College student Shu Ying Lin when she joined the program and got Khanh Nguyen Bao Tran, better known as Kate, as her mentor.

Shu Ying Lin (left,) and Khanh Nguyen Bao Tran, aka Kate (right,) at a Peer2Peer event

“As a mentee, being a part of Peer2Peer was like having an older sibling who has more knowledge about what to do to have a fulfilling and successful college experience,” Ying said. the Peer2Peer program has been one of Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard’s ideas on how to help close the achievement gap. Peer mentors are a component of Peer2Peer, which also includes peer educators and peer navigators.

Stephanie Will, Montgomery College’s mental health program manager, trains peer educators. The goal is to help them recognize mental health issues that a fellow student might go through. Peer navigators, also referred to as student hosts, work with the welcome center to help with the influx of students and to share information about events that are coming up that could benefit students.

All three components, which have been implemented gradually since 2016, are timely. According to a Cigna research study published last year, there is a loneliness epidemic in the US. Generation Z (aged 18-22) seems to be the most affected, according to the study. “Peer Mentors main focus is to help students adjust to school, whether it’s the social piece, because we found a lot of students are missing… They are just having a hard time making friends,” said Dr. Benita Rashaw, Peer2Peer program manager.

Support from mentors helps mentees with navigating college and staying connected to campus. They also gain a sense of belonging at MC, time management and organizational skills to help them be academically successful, and a reliable means of support from peers who understand and have insight into the experience of being a student at the College.

Peer Mentors main focus is to help students adjust to school, whether it’s the social piece, because we found a lot of students are… just having a hard time making friends

Nevertheless, it is not always easy to ask for help, especially for students who tend to be shy. “This year one of my mentees and I were in the same class. He was having a hard time and was only focused on his studies,” Tran said. She would like to see students reach out more and express their needs, as she said some mentees do not always ask for help at first.

Ying and Tran eventually became friends. “Whenever we would meet, she would tell me about her experience or provide me with resources that might be useful to me,” Ying said. Her experience has inspired her to become a mentor herself.

Dr. Benita Rashaw, Peer2Peer program manager

This semester, the program has 23 mentors serving more than 40 mentees. “I hope that the program grows so big that it becomes a standard for community colleges, because I think every aspect is important to student growth,” Dr. Rashaw said. For now, though, there is a small staff.

Peer mentors benefit from building leadership, enhancing their communication and problem solving skills, as well as other career readiness skills, such as networking opportunities through connections with alumni mentors, developing skills by attending training workshops, and even by earning a stipend of up to $900 per semester.

“Being a mentor in the Peer2Peer program means you get to learn more about opportunities offered by MC,” Ying said, “and make a positive impact on others.”

Anyone interested can learn more about the program and students can apply to become peer mentors. They need to be currently enrolled at Montgomery College, have a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0, and have completed at least two semesters and 18 credit hours at MC.

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