As a freshman joining Utah State University’s Track and Field Team in fall 2017, Alex Lyons wasn’t keen on having an upperclassman mentor.
“Athletics assigned mandatory peer mentors to each team member,” says Lyons, a Cache Valley, Utah native. “I was already busy with track and classes, so I was doubtful weekly meetings with a mentor would benefit me.”
He quickly changed his mind.
“My mentor, though just a couple of years ahead of me in school, answered questions I didn’t even know I had,” says Lyons, a biochemistry major and aspiring physician.
Seizing upon Lyons’ pre-med ambitions, his mentor researched potential medical schools and identified activities and actions that would benefit the freshman in his academic and future career quests.
“I started college with the idea that you just go to class and everything will work out,” Lyons says. “I learned, from my mentor, the importance of participating in undergrad research and internships, networking, getting involved in leadership activities and actively preparing to pursue future opportunities.”
Lyons was elected USU Student Association Senator for the College of Science during the 2019-2020 academic year and dove into efforts, with fellow Science Council members, to coordinate meaningful activities.
“We arranged Science Week, as well as activities throughout the year that included introducing students to successful alumni, advising them of research opportunities, getting students involved in Science Unwrapped and other outreach activities and just hosting fun gatherings where people could get to know each other,” he says. “But I wanted to do something else that would have a lasting impact.”
That “something” grew into a peer mentorship program.
“I was determined to initiate a program like the one I’d had in Athletics that was so helpful to me,” says Lyons, who currently serves as vice president of the student-led Science Council.
It took a lot of effort.
“I had to prepare a comprehensive proposal, sell the idea to administrators and USUSA, get lots of approvals and develop mentor recruitment, screening and training, along with many other details,” Lyons says. “But with help from the College of Science Dean’s Office and fellow students, the vision came together.”
Lyons and fellow Science Council members launched the program in Fall 2019 with 15 mentors and 50 mentees.
Feedback from participants has been overwhelmingly positive, he says. Mentees appreciate guidance from peers and mentors report they’ve learned a lot about the university, by researching information for their mentees, and appreciate the opportunity to learn leadership and teaching skills. Further, all participants say the program leads to new connections and friendships.
“Starting college can be overwhelming and, in our current pandemic situation, many students feel isolated,” says Lyons, who graduates in Spring 2021. “Having a mentor means a new student will have at least one new friend checking in with them regularly – even though meetings are currently over Zoom – and helping them navigate challenges.”
The application period for Fall Semester 2020 mentors and mentees is open until Monday, September 21.
“We encourage College of Science students to take advantage of this opportunity, whether as mentee or mentor,” Lyons says.
He notes the program is not a tutoring program, but other campus units provide tutoring for all USU students, including the Aggie Math Learning Center, the Computer Science Tutoring Center, Biology and Chemistry Tutoring and the Science Writing Center.
In addition, the Science Council encourages new Science students to view “Discover Science,” a Zoom gathering recorded during USU Connections, providing information about the mentorship program, student clubs and undergraduate research.