Peer Mentorship Program Begins a New Chapter Serving PLNU

Photo Credit: Denise Necoechea. Mentors Kaitlyn Smith (left) and Allison Barr (right) and Mentee John DeMeyer (middle) at the Peer Mentor Program Launch on Sept. 13, 2023.

The peer mentorship program through Point Loma Nazarene University’s Educational Access Center (EAC) has become an official course this semester, listed as “IDS 2090W” on Workday. It has been an informal project of professor Emeritus Jim Johnson and volunteer students since 2016. On Sept. 13, 2023, mentors, mentees and professors gathered in the Evans Hall courtyard for the program’s launch. 

This is the first semester the program is taught as a formal class. The program coordinator, professor Denise Necoechea, said that making the program a class has allowed her to bring on more students who were interested in mentoring. Additionally, she said that it is more flexible to meet one-on-one with the mentors each week to expand their knowledge of skills, strategies, leadership and academic coaching, as well as help them complete national certification for peer mentorship. It has also allowed the program to take on more mentees, which according to Necoechea, grew from three or four mentees in 2016 to 18 mentors and mentees this semester. 

In 2019, Necoechea took over the informal program after Johnson retired. Along with professor Grace Fantaroni, the two professors wrote a grant to the National Foundation of Autism Research; in 2020, the program received $5,000 in support. 

However, the grant ran out in 2022, and according to Necoechea, it was difficult to continue the program on top of her regular classes.

Necoechea and Fantaroni spoke to Holly Irwin, the vice provost for PLNU’s academic administration, and Pamela Harris, the associate dean of the EAC, to brainstorm how the students receiving services would not need to be let go. They proposed a course where mentors could receive formal, structured training to assist their mentees and allow more students who were interested to participate. 

When applying for the program, Necoechea says that students registered with the EAC can choose the kind of support they need whether it be help with assignments, talking to professors or a friend to help integrate them into the PLNU community, such as going with mentees to events, on coffee runs and catching up about life for an hour each week.

Lauren Amaral, a fourth-year nursing major, has been a mentee in the program for three years. 

“It just means a lot to have extra support. Last night I met with one of my mentors from three years ago, and it’s cool that she’s kept in touch still. It means a lot to me to have such positive friendships,” Amaral said.

According to the founder of the program, Johnson, an endowment is in the process of being set up for the program this year. He says that this endowment will fund better support, supplies and even scholarships for the peer mentors.

 “This is a lasting thing these students are doing,” Johnson said.

Fourth-year elementary education major Madden Carlson was a peer mentor for the last two years after being encouraged by Necoechea to volunteer.

 “It is such an incredible experience. It is so unique. It just gives a really refreshing new look on life, the beauty of it and how different yet similar we can all be,” Carlson said. 

According to Necoechea, this program is helping Point Loma Nazarene University students who need support academically and socially. It allows them to have a partner during their time at PLNU, impacting them far beyond the college experience. 

“This is so vital to the health, wellbeing and growth of certain students on this campus. It’s often overlooked of how crucial this [program] is needed,” Necoechea said. “There really can be profound impacts when I hear the feedback and I hear that mentees are staying at this university because they had this mentorship, otherwise, they might have left and that mentees graduated because of their mentors.” 

The one-credit elective course meets on Wednesdays from 4:15 to 5 p.m. and is open to all majors who are interested. To become a peer mentor, a student would have to register for the course and submit an application to Necoechea. For more information, contact the EAC via eac@pointloma.edu or Necoechea at DeniseNecoechea@pointloma.edu.