Human Ecology Mentors Offer Lifelines to New Students

Article excerpt

When Christina Lantuh '15 imagined her first semester of college, she never foresaw visiting a professor's home for dinner, friendly conversation, and Christmas cookies for dessert. The semester-end meal, arranged by Patsy Brannon, professor of nutritional sciences, through the Human Ecology Peer Partnership Program, was filled with hearty food and advice--a sweet conclusion to the program that eased Lantuh's initial months at Cornell.

For first-year--and in many cases, first-generation--students like Lantuh, Cornell is an unfamiliar academic and social territory with a maze of classes, resources, and opportunities. Such a beginning can be as overwhelming as it is exciting.

To help incoming students get their footing, the College of Human Ecology offers a long-running Peer Partnership Program that taps faculty members and upperclass students to be role models. Since 1996, it has helped more than a thousand students start their Cornell adventure--particularly students of color and others from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds.

Under the program, each fall faculty members and upperclass student peer mentors work with groups of five to seven freshmen or transfer students. They meet for fun activities, such as trips to the clock tower, house dinners, or sporting events, where they can talk about anything from academic struggles to Cornell social life. Mentees also share at least one class paper with their mentors for a critique, and together they attend an on-campus discussion with Cornell alumni about their academic and career experiences. Finally, the program also helps to orient students--many of whom grew up far away--to Cornell's sprawling campus and the surrounding area.

"The informal interaction provides members from across the Human Ecology community chances to connect," said Verdene Lee, senior associate director of the college's Office of Admissions, Student, and Career Development, who heads the program with Gary Evans, the Elizabeth Lee Vincent Professor of Human Ecology. "The relaxed relationships usually develop and continue on unofficially into the spring and throughout students' careers. …