Peer advisers point students to success

Justin HanBy Douglas Esser 
The University of Washington Bothell has a professional staff of academic advisers available to tell first-year and pre-major students how to succeed in college. But sometimes, it helps to hear it from someone even closer to their situation – a peer adviser.

Photo: Peer adviser Justin Han offers advice. (Marc Studer photos)

“I think you walk in to college as a senior from high school thinking you know everything. I realized I don’t,“ said Jamal Howard, now ready to graduate in June in media and communications studies.
Howard was a sophomore when he decided to stop and ask directions.

“I wanted to put myself in the best position possible, so I made my way here,” Howard said in the Student Success Center where he received advice from another student.

Jamal Howard, Jayme Woods“It was cool to hear guidance from people my age – someone that actually is going through the same things I’m going through. Having them as a source is really important,” said Howard, who starts a full-time job this summer with a marketing company.

Photo: Jamal Howard talks with adviser Jayme Woods.

Xie Chen “Tiger” Song, a first-year student interested in a career in video production, said talking with peer adviser Justin Han helped him see “how my ideas and thoughts fit in a certain major and whether I should pursue this or that.”

But what really impressed Song was when Han called him up just to ask how he was doing. 

“It really shows that having someone in higher ed who really cares about you has a profound impact on your academics,” Song said.

Erica QiaoPeer advising is more than picking out classes. “Whether it’s a good fit – something someone’s passionate about – is another question,” Han said.

Photo: Adviser Erica Qiao specializes in pre-med or health studies students.

“Sometimes a student comes in and tells me their situation and I’m like, ‘Oh, I know exactly what you’re going through because I’ve been through something similar,’ and then I share my experience with them and tell them what they can do, what their options are,” said Han, who is graduating in June in media and communications studies.

Han was one of the first people hired in 2014 when the peer adviser program was started by Kathy Mitchell, first-year program academic adviser, and one of six professional academic advisers at the Student Success Center. The five current peer advisers were chosen to represent a variety of majors with special backgrounds or skills. Han, for example, speaks Chinese. 

However, the top skills Mitchell looks for in a peer adviser are empathy and customer service. Advisers are trained in the various academic offerings and in protecting student privacy. The peers see about 500 students a quarter who drop in to the center, Mitchell said. 

Jayme Woods

Jayme Woods, right, the lead peer adviser, was a Running Start student, now graduating in June with a master’s degree in education. Other Running Start students seek her advice. Woods tells them to make sure classes apply to their intended major – especially high-demand majors such as mechanical engineering or computer science. 

“We want students to find their major, graduate and be successful,” Woods said.