How do you simultaneously develop leadership skills in current Honors students, welcome new students to the Honors Program, and convey critical information about the Program's curriculum, community, resources, and opportunities?
To address those issues, the Honors Program launched a new peer educator program in spring, 2010, aimed at enhancing the required introductory Honors course, "Honors 100." Peer educators are current students in the Honors Program who take a leadership role in the course by facilitating small weekly sections of the larger introductory course. These sections bring groups of 12-18 new Honors students together to learn from the expertise of their peer educator and share their first quarter experience with a community of Honors students.
"It's an exciting idea to have students involved in giving something to the incoming class," says Emily Nitz-Ritter, a junior in the Honors Program and veteran peer educator. "It's fun to give back to the Program and pass on what you have learned."
The program provides a welcoming introduction for new students and a significant leadership opportunity for current Honors students. Honors Program advisers select 20-25 peer educators who take a prep course in which they discuss teaching methods, classroom dynamics, and their leadership roles in "Honors 100." Come autumn, they are armed with teaching techniques and ideas, working lesson plans for their section, and, most importantly, a network of support.
"There is an assumption in the peer educator program that everyone has something to contribute." Nitz-Ritter explains. "The training gave students the tools to take on a challenge and provided a safe environment to engage in a leadership role with lots of support."
The intent is that every cohort of peer educators will consist of returning and new students. Autumn 2013 will be Nitz-Ritter's third year in this role.
"Returning to this experience has allowed me to grow, change, and practice flexibility and patience with myself," she says. "Every year that I do this I am not only closer to what I am teaching my students because I have experienced more as a student myself, but the experience has also made me feel much more connected to my own education and to the Honors Program."
—Aley Willis, director of academic services in the Honors Program