Through the Student Lens – Peer coach connects with students and helps them carve a path to academic success

Sophia Pires ’24
Major: Psychology / Minor: Biology
Hometown: Farmington, Maine

Who can students turn to if they want to improve their test-prep, notetaking or time-management skills? Meet an academic advising peer coach who draws from and shares her own experiences to help her peers succeed both in and out of the classroom as you take a look “Through the Student Lens.”

What is a peer coach, how many there are, and how did you get involved?

A peer coach is someone who helps advisors in the Filene Center to facilitate workshops for students on campus. We work to offer support in all aspects of academics including note-taking, exam prep, and study structures, as well as the college experience including how to be active on campus, how to remain an engaged member of the community, and how to balance school responsibilities with extracurriculars. Peer coaches are here as another resource on campus for students, especially as we have experience being current Wheaton students. For the spring semester, there are five peer coaches, some returning from last semester and some who are just starting out like myself. I began working as a peer coach after my Student Success Advisor (SSA) reached out to me, thinking I would fit well within the program. She had been helping me through academic logistics during my semester abroad and through this connection, we got to know each other very well. Missy has been a huge presence in the program helping to guide both the peer coaches and our students.

Could you please describe your experience with Wheaton’s Academic Advising as a whole and what it is like now that you are “on the other side of the desk” helping students who sit where you once sat?

Going into my first year at Wheaton, I had a completely different mindset about my academic interests and was really looking to expand my horizons during my college career. I have been working with my entire advising team since my freshman year as they helped me to navigate through three separate changes in my major, my decision to spend a semester abroad, and introduced me to pathways into the workforce. My advisors demonstrated such patience with me and helped take a load off my shoulders while trying to fulfill my academic requirements. I can remember feeling as though I was letting things slip through my fingers, forgetting about little tasks I needed to complete to stay within my four-year plan for graduation. Being in my position as a peer coach, I am able to help students who are now in the same situation I was struggling with and I can help them using my own experience as an example. Students seem to be more likely to discuss their issues with me regarding Wheaton classes and life, as I am their peer, not an authority figure. I’m able to create this connection with students because we are going through the same things and are all just trying to figure it out. I can speak from experience that it is way easier to get through college with people who are in the same position, understand what is expected of me, and how it will impact me on a personal level.

How do students benefit from working with a peer coach in addition to meeting with Advising staff? What advice would you offer first-year students who may not have met with a peer coach yet?

In my opinion, having that one-on-one connection with a peer is crucial. Advisors are immensely helpful and can assist from the outside, but peer coaches are in the mix with students. We are in classes together, eat together, live together, and experience day-to-day life side by side. Being able to work with someone who is currently in your shoes and has been through similar situations makes it easier to relate to them and open up about concerns you may have. I think all students would benefit from meeting with a peer coach. At the very least, it provides a space where students can share their experiences and their concerns to see that they’re not alone here at Wheaton. Asking for help can go a long way and all of our peer coaches actively want to take on a role in students’ lives as a resource and, honestly, as a friend they can turn to.

As part of your work as a peer coach, you work facilitating skill-building workshops and student study sessions. Can you describe what those entail and who takes advantage of those services?

In our skill-building workshops, each week takes on a new topic that is aimed to build a foundation of productive study habits to improve academic performance. Just last week, as midterms are looming, we talked about ways to make study guides and test-taking habits.

During the workshops, I go through scripts that our SSAs compile to share research about the topic and basics so students understand how they can improve their academic standing. Oftentimes, I find that my students and I share what’s going on in our classes. We talk about how we are currently working to succeed and where we feel we’re lacking. These conversations are super-productive because they help highlight our problem areas and then together, we can workshop how to solve them.

During our study sessions, students come to the Filene Center and utilize our time to complete assignments and ask any course-specific or general Wheaton questions. Carving out time for homework is very difficult when living on campus but extremely important. Surrounding yourself with a group of people who are all working towards the same goal is a great way to motivate yourself and allows students to use their time outside of study hall more freely. The students I see in my workshops and study halls are assigned to me by the Filene Center and the SSAs. But, I’ve had friends and housemates ask me to share the information I have acquired because students are always looking to better their academic performance.

What does the typical week of a peer coach look like and how can students utilize your services, skills, and insight?

Each peer coach works two days a week. One day we run our workshop, and the other we host the study hall. Each session takes roughly two hours, and every new week we tackle new topics for academic success. A lot of the skills we discuss are simple, foundational resources that can be applied to any class. I feel like a lot of students don’t recognize how much work goes into courses outside of the classroom setting but peer coaches are here to demonstrate their importance.

What is your favorite part about being a peer coach and can you think of a moment when you realized you have such an important impact on campus?

I love being a peer coach because the position allows me to cultivate one-on-one relationships with my students. We are able to develop a connection so that they feel comfortable coming to me with any issues they have on campus. I didn’t realize the impact my job had on these students until one student began to consistently reach out and ask for my help, about things both in and out of the classroom.

Sophia is just one of the many engaging students here at Wheaton. As parents and guardians, you are an integral part of our community. “Through the Student Lens” brings the campus to you, as seen through the eyes of our students, the many roles they play and the experiences they gain during their time here at Wheaton.