Dec. 14, 2001-Jan. 10, 2002
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Casteen assesses state budget
Executives talk about the heart of leadership
Nurses convene congress to strengthen their voice

African-American Affairs office has charted successful, 25-year course

Building community: Peer advisors offer support
Take our Advice ... Tips for office security over the holidays
No quick fix for Virginia
Tuition assistance and reimbursement requests due soon
New Faces -- Top posts to be filled at U.Va.-Wise
Jan. 4 forum: Ask your local legislators
IATH proposals due Jan. 30
Gone but not forgotten
Happy holidays from ’Hooville

Building community: Peer advisors offer support

By Brianne M. Jones

Michelle Jones, a third-year student majoring in government and economics, came to U.Va. as an out-of-state student from Texas. Like many students entering college, she was anxious about meeting new people, but her fears were tamed when her peer advisor started corresponding with her.

Sylvia Terry
Rebecca Arrington
Sylvia Terry (above) has done a tremendous job with the Peer Advisors program, taking it from small beginnings to a program of national stature, said OAAA dean Rick Turner.

“My peer advisor called me, sent me letters, e-mails and a card over the summer so that I would already know someone once I got to Charlottesville,” she said.

Jones’ peer advisor was always supportive and resourceful, which helped make the pressures of first year bearable. “She was always a person I could go to with all of my questions,” she said. “After my first year, we just stayed friends.”

Due to her positive experience, Jones decided to become a peer advisor.

Advisors are chosen through a competitive selection process and must complete several training sessions. They are responsible for at least five new students each year. Now in her second year as an advisor, Jones says she welcomes her advisees the same way she was welcomed.

To better serve as a link between admitting and retaining black students, the Office of African-American Affairs developed the Peer Advisor Program in 1984. Associate dean Sylvia Terry who became director in 1989, said, the program consists of “the three tiers of retention” — outreach, programming and personal meetings with first-year students.

The outreach arm of the program involves establishing contact with incoming first-years over the summer to let them know that someone eagerly awaits their arrival. Once the new students are on Grounds, advisors contact them regularly and answer any questions they may have, directing them to academic and social resources.

They also encourage their advisees to take ownership of their student experience. Advisors emphasize getting involved in various organizations and activities as a way to become more familiar with U.Va. and other black students.

U.Va. boasts one of the highest retention and graduation rates for African-American students in the country — even higher than that of historically black colleges and universities. Through the personalized, individual support that the Peer Advisor Program provides, new black students reach a comfort level with other people and their surroundings, which, according to Terry, increases their chances of remaining at U.Va. and ultimately graduating.

Besides breeding future advisors, perhaps the greatest benefits of the program are the relationships and friendships that it forms. Jones is proud of the friendship she maintains with her former peer advisor and admits being close to her advisees from this year as well as last. “Once someone is my advisee,” she said, “they’re always my advisee.”

This article is a shorter version of a longer piece published in A&S Online, August 2001.


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