Today’s students at Northern Illinois University have a multitude of resources available to them in order to provide support for a successful academic career and beyond.
Among those support mechanisms are NIU’s so-called peer-to-peer mentoring programs.
Sophomore pre-nursing student Shareny Mota has taken advantage of these programs since coming to NIU, and now, she’s taking the knowledge she has gained and using it to help others.
Mota, from McHenry, serves as a peer mentor in the Huskie Service Scholars program within the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning.
This program strives to develop a peer network and provide support that enables students to engage in service work on campus and in the community. First-generation or low-income students entering NIU for the first time are placed into teams with an upperclassman mentor. Teams then work with site supervisors to provide regular service to their campus partner.
“I like to mentor students so they don’t feel lost. I give tips and advice or personal opinions to them as to how to be successful at NIU,” Mota says.
Mota also serves as a director of M.Á.S F.R.E.S.H. (Mentoring for Academic Success Freshmen Receiving Experience and Study Habits), which helps new students make a successful academic and social transition to life at NIU. It also provides free tutoring services that help and encourage freshmen to perform at a high level in the classroom.
As a tutor in the Latino Resource Center’s Vanguardia Afirmativa de Latinos Unidos (V.A.L.U.) group at DeKalb High School, Mota spends Wednesday afternoons helping freshmen through senior students with their homework, helping them to build an identity within the school as well as become familiar with NIU. The after school program was formed in 2007 to provide opportunities and empowerment to Latino and non-Latino high school students in the local community.
Each Tuesday and Thursday in the UNIV 101 Latino Experience class where Mota is a peer instructor, a new resource is brought into class to discuss the services they offer. “We talk a lot about identity,” she says. “Don’t feel out of place where you’re at. Get out of your comfort zone.”
“Shareny’s experiences are an example of how NIU fosters student engagement by encouraging our students to get involved with our campus and community while at the same time promoting the students’ academic and individual success,” adds Julia Spears, director of the Office of Student Engagement and Experiential Learning. She says the programs are just a sampling of the many mentoring programs available to position NIU undergraduate students for academic, personal and career success.
“Students ask me why I’m so involved. My response is that I like to give back to my community and see other people succeed,” Mota says. “(NIU) is my community … we’re all walking together.”
Last year as a freshman, Mota worked for Greg Long, professor in the School of Allied Health and Communicative Disorders, as a research rookie, conducting disability research and working on a video. Her first year at Northern was filled with successes, but she also overcame many challenges. She – like other mentors – is eager to relay her experiences with others.
“The freshmen always tell me, ‘You’re so involved.’ I always tell them about the challenges I faced and the things I didn’t succeed in,” Mota says. “I tell them that if I can get through those obstacles, they can, too. There’s always a way. Fight for your dreams.”