For over a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has challenged all LaGuardians to completely rethink what we do as members of our community. The Center for Teaching and Learning’s Peer Mentoring Programs include Peer Advisors (PAs) and Student Success Mentors (SSMs), all of whom responded without hesitation to the campus-wide emergency call to assist in the transition from onsite to distance learning. In March 2020, guided by program coordinators and directors, mentors immediately began to imagine the LaGuardia mentoring experience within a remote environment, an extraordinary effort requiring new applications of knowledge, skill, and integrity. In recognition of exceptional ability and accomplishment in extraordinary times, program coordinators* nominated seventy-nine current and former mentors who served in Spring 2020 or Fall 2020 to apply for digital badges in Leadership Skills or Professional Ethics. Recipients may be awarded digital badges more than one category.
Described as “a visual representation of knowledge and skills developed through particular learning experiences” https://www.laguardia.edu/digital-badges/, digital badges are based on career readiness competencies as identified by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE); they are awarded by the Center for Career and Professional Development’s (CCPD) Digital Badging Initiative. Upon nomination, the CCPD prompts peer mentors to submit evidence of competency in the area(s) for which they have been recognized. This year’s nine Digital Badge recipients are Peer Advisors Chhimi Gurung, Ludia Adhikary, and Tina Gurung; and Student Success Mentors Angie Alonzo, Mohammad Rahman, Pema Thinle Mahatara Khamba, Salih Mansur, Stephen Blake, and Unique Upreti.
Leadership in Action
Peer Advisors are LaGuardia students who help students understand the advisement process. Their work is informed by productive partnerships with relevant departmental staff, Academy leadership, and Student Advising Services. Equally significant are their personal experiences as learners, which they draw upon in mentoring students’ academic planning, class registration, and program-specific decisions. Additional key tasks include supporting the use of digital advising tools and clarifying campus and major-specific resources. All peer advising responsibilities require access to sensitive student information, which they must handle with care, professionalism, and confidentiality.
Peer Advisors also play a key role in supporting college-wide events. Among these is You Are Not Alone, a live weekly series held on Instagram, the social media platform. Its goal is to provide support, tips, and resources to LaGuardia students about different aspects of their academic journey. Describing the value of You are Not Alone to her professional growth, Digital Badge recipient and Peer Advisor Ludia Adhikary writes that “playing a role as a mentor with Instagram live helped me to learn more about how to be a leader by setting [an example] and giving my own experience.” Ludia’s contributions to guiding students’ transitions to distance learning is one example of the pandemic’s unprecedented demands upon mentors.
Student Success Mentors draw upon similar skills in guiding students enrolled in the First Year Seminar Studio Hour, which they facilitate. As mentors, they must model the habits of leadership and student success for First Year students and express empathy and interpersonal intelligence, qualities especially helpful to students navigating the complexities of distance-learning. As Digital Badge Recipient Angie Alonzo (SSM) remarks
Creating boundaries as well as being lenient [and having] balance was key in maintaining professionalism through an online environment. Engagement was maybe the trickiest one. As mentors we often have the advantage of relating to students, but we also had to maintain this ‘posture’ in front of them. Remaining strong [and] not diminishing what is truly happening was the biggest challenge.
Angie’s experience is similar to many CTL peer mentors who currently work remotely during a global pandemic. Like her, they have learned to engage and support students in a virtual environment, while “not diminishing” their own experiences.
Professional Ethics in Action
Peer mentors of both programs display a commitment to professional ethics by consistently demonstrating a commitment to punctuality, integrity, time/workload management, and professional communication. Reflecting on the role of ethics in his commitment to his mentees, Digital Badge recipient Mohammad Rahman (SSM) writes
The Pandemic didn’t give an escape to our students or their family . . . I know several students who lost their relatives to COVID. Therefore, for us, it was not only about giving them instructions and asking them to complete the assignments when we knew what kind of circumstances they were going through; it became more like a moral and ethical responsibility for us to ensure none of our students fell behind due to the overburdened situation.
Mentors are also students, and like Mohammad, they can easily empathize with everything that students are going through during the pandemic and the transition to distance learning. As he facilitates the First Year Seminar Studio Hour, Mohammad is constantly aware of the “overburdened situation” caused by collective adversity. The pandemic continues to present numerous logistical and emotional challenges. Nevertheless, the difficulties imposed by the transition to distance-learning have also called forth the strength to develop and demonstrate key professional competencies of leadership and ethics. The Center for Teaching and Learning gratefully acknowledges Yevi Granovskaya and the entire CCPD team for the Digital Badge opportunity offered our peer mentors. In the true spirit of LaGuardia, as exemplified by Ludia, Angie, and Mohammad, our peer mentors have dared to do more.
*Julissa Camilo coordinates the Peer Advisor Academy; Estefany Gonzaga coordinates the Student Success Mentors program; and David Brandt is the Professional Development and Communications Coordinator for CTL Student Success Programs. Ellen Quish directs First Year Programming and Student Success.