Learning from and leaning on each other

College STEPS Director Patty Moore chats with STEPS student Lance Robinson in a recent Zoom session.

Making a significant impact on society is something most students aim to do after college, however the mentors of the Castleton University College STEPS program are getting a head start.

The STEPS program is the nation’s largest peer support network in which student mentors focus on helping fellow students living with learning and social challenges.

“I think every college student undergrad or graduate should consider becoming a part of the program because it’s awesome,” Brett Bull said.

Bull is a graduate student in his second semester as a college mentor and has been working with his mentee completely remotely.

“A lot of the students in the College STEPS program, they have a tough time with social skills and building their confidence levels, so it’s been awesome to see my mentee now speaks up in a class of 13 or 14 people, so that’s pretty huge for him,” Bull said.

Bull discussed his biggest take-away from his time in the program saying he’s learned to adapt to different situations and be more understanding of all people.

“Not every day is a great day for anyone. Sometimes in sessions, mentees get frustrated, so it’s important to learn to adjust and take a break and then come back to working on things,” Bull explained.

Lead peer mentor, Morgan Landry, is in her third semester with the program. Conversely to Bull, this semester Landry does in-person support on Fridays.

“They’ve definitely enjoyed having that sense of normalcy right now. Having that little bit of free time at the end of the week, kind of like a treat, to go on walks or do activities,” Landry said about her experiences on Fridays.

She talked about the value the program has for her future social work career and claims patience has been her biggest improvement from this experience.

In working with her mentee, Landry says she has learned that people sometimes need different things, even in the same situation as others, which has helped her to further understand how to help STEPS students.

The program’s director at Castleton University, Patty Moore, has been impressed with both the mentees and mentors so far this semester, despite the challenges of dealing with the pandemic. Overcoming technology challenges, amending social activities and working from home are just a few of the obstacles the program has encountered thus far.

“I think it’s worked out really well,” Moore said. “Ninety percent of our support right now is virtual. We do some minor in-person support on Fridays,” Moore said.

She explained that the in-person support is designed for mentees who need more social interaction or sometimes it can be just to help with a task that isn’t easily done remotely.

Most of the social events are being done virtually and are centered around mental health and mindfulness, rather than all fun. Peer mentor-led virtual mindfulness, meditation, and yoga sessions are conducted multiple times a week as is the Castleton Wellness Center’s virtual mindfulness session.

However, sometimes in-person support is just helping a mentee load the necessary apps for his classes onto his iPad.

“I think we’ve been really successful, I’ve been really pleased,” Moore said smiling.

When talking about hiring peer mentors, Moore says she tries to get sophomores into the program so they can stay on for three years.

“I feel like mentors really enjoy this job. They feel good about themselves and they gain great experience no matter what their major or career path is,” Moore said.


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