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First Year

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118 Gilchrist Hall 

University of Northern Iowa

Phone: (319) 273-2467

Fax: (319) 273-5832


Peer Mentor Seminar Syllabus

UNIV 3186

Studies in First-Year Mentoring

WF 2:00-2:50

Lang Hall 345

Fall 2016

Deirdre Heistad, Ph.D. 

Director of Undergraduate Studies

Office: 381 Rod Library

Phone: 319-273-2633


Kristin Woods, Ph.D. 

 Director, Student Success & Retention 

Office: 118 Gilchrist 

Phone: 319-273-22815


McKenzie Flick

Program Assistant


Nikki Harken

Conerstone Co-Director

Office: 3323 Lang

Phone: 319-273-3707

Rachel Morgan

Cornerstone Co-Director

Office: 1001 Bartlett

Phone: 319-273-6812

UNI First-Year Philosophy Statement

A positive first-year experience is the cornerstone of students' success in college, and by extension, their careers and lives. The University of Northern Iowa recognizes the importance and value of this positive first-year experience for students, and the need for the university to facilitate students' effective transition to the University by providing a variety of experiences, opportunities, and foundational skills to help them become successful students.

We are committed to creating a welcoming and safe environment both in and outside the classroom that:    

  • is sensitive to individual needs, backgrounds and experiences of all first-year students,

  • facilitates their connections and points of contact with faculty, other students, staff and support services,

  • encourages their active involvement in community life, and

  • introduces them to the community values of respect, caring, ethical responsibility, inclusiveness, and intellectual and social engagement.

We are committed to fostering a personalized and supportive academic, experiential, and living environment that challenges and inspires students to:

  • actively engage in learning,

  • develop a broader world view,

  • practice responsible decision-making,

  • open their minds to new possibilities,

  • be engaged citizens, and

  • be prepared to be members of pluralistic communities.

This is the context in which the Peer Mentor Program was conceived and implemented.

Peer Mentoring Program Mission Statement

The mission of the University of Northern Iowa Peer Mentoring program is to:

  • Build a foundation for first-year student success through access to peer mentoring in the classroom, engagement in a personalized academic community, and connection to academic and personal resources.

  • Create a leadership experience for upper level university students characterized by close collaboration with faculty, classroom teaching opportunities, and mentoring of first-year students.

  • Produce a signature UNI first-year program within the Liberal Arts Core that touches all first-year students, resulting in more vital classroom communities and increased retention rates.

Therefore, as a result of the Peer Mentor Program:

First-year students will:

  • Feel that they have ready access to a helpful peer role model.

  • Develop a connection to the UNI community and establish a sense of belonging.

  • Identify appropriate campus resources and opportunities that contribute to their educational experience.

Peer mentors will:

  • Develop a collaborative professional relationship with a faculty member.

  • Establish positive mentoring relationships with first-year students in their assigned course sections.

  • Develop a connection with a community of peer educators that allows for open exchange of ideas related to their peer mentor classroom experience.

  • Demonstrate the ability to provide feedback on student papers and projects.

  • Strengthen presentation and group facilitation skills.

  • Identify personal strengths and leadership styles.

  • Increase knowledge of key university academic and personal resources.

Peer Mentor Expectations

  • 10 hours per week of work in support of the assigned first-year course, including:

    • Office hours (2)

    • Participation in UNIV 3186: Studies in First-Year Peer Mentoring seminar (2)

    • Attending every class session of assigned first-year course, modeling active learning and assisting as directed by host instructor (3)

    • Classroom leadership and mentoring experiences including (but not limited to) individual meetings with first-year students, student outreach, interacting with and making referrals through Mapworks system, grading, facilitating classroom activities as directed by host instructor, check-in/planning meetings with host instructor, attending co-curricular activities with students, lesson planning for class presentations (3)

  • Attend Peer Mentor staff meetings and training workshops

  • Participate in assessing the effectiveness of the program

Faculty Member Expectations

The peer mentor experience involves a complex collaboration among peer mentors, first-year students, LAC instructors and the seminar leadership team. To this end, we acknowledge that peer mentors can only achieve their goals with the guidance and mentoring of the faculty. As such, peer mentors can expect the following from the faculty members with whom they are collaborating. Though faculty member expectations may vary, faculty members are expected to collaborate with peer mentors as follows:

  • Meet regularly with your peer mentor for planning/check-in purposes (30 per week is typical)

  • Provide feedback as requested on peer mentor performance to seminar instructors

  • Provide clear expectations on how you would like your peer mentor to contribute to the class.  Student experiences vary greatly by class size and faculty teaching style.  Our hope is that the peer mentor will help build community within the classroom and mentor first-year students.  Possible duties include:

    • Helping to facilitate classroom activities, allowing for smaller group opportunities

    • Using Mapworks to determine which students in your course are struggling during the transition to college, and following up through personal connections

    • Meeting individually with students to prepare for an upcoming assignment/project (not ask possible in larger class sessions)

    • Presenting short (10-15 minute) lesson plans on student success topics such as using campus resources, registering for classes, preparing for finals, etc.  

    • Taking attendance and grading student engagement activities

Required Materials

  • Newton, F. B., & Ender, S. C. (2010). Students helping students: A guide for peer educators on college campuses (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. (provided)

  • Other reading materials will be provided as appropriate throughout the semester.

Attendance and Participation

Together, we are a community of learners. Your presence or absence affects everyone in the community. Thus, it is crucial that each of you attend the seminar class. You should arrive in the seminar classroom ready to reflect on the topics/readings. Your comments and questions, and your ability to listen well to others and respond thoughtfully, affects everyone in the group. NOTE: You will be given three free absences, but for each additional absence, your grade in the seminar will be reduced by 1/3 of a letter grade, regardless of the reason for the absence.  So, please use your absences wisely.


Your final grade in the seminar will be based on three factors.

  • Mentoring plans (40%)

  • Learning portfolio (10%)

  • Host instructor’s feedback (25%)

  • Active and meaningful participation in the peer mentor seminar (25%)


Each peer mentor is expected to maintain a learning portfolio that serves to demonstrate that you have achieved the specific learning outcomes for this program. You will include in this portfolio supporting artifacts demonstrating your success this semester. Artifacts may include, but are certainly not limited to, Power Point presentations, emails you sent to students, examples of student feedback you gave, emails you received, lesson plans you prepared, discussion questions you wrote, class activities you created, etc.   You will also provide a 1-2 page single-spaced reflective essay summarizing your work, demonstrating what you believe you have gained from this experience based on what you put into it.  In the final portion of your essay, we encourage you to share with us what grade you believe you earned and why. We will schedule a portfolio conference time to meet with you individually to talk about your assessment at the end of the semester.