Student Peer Mentoring at NYUCD:
An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Mr. Steve Bolan, Director of Student Affairs, above in white shirt

While it is not unusual to find structured, institutionally sponsored, student peer-mentoring programs at medical schools, the same cannot be said for the majority of dental schools.

But beginning in fall 2007, entering freshmen were welcomed with the launch of a formal peer-mentoring program designed to enable every member of the Class of 2011 to deal successfully with the kinds of issues and anxieties that freshman dental students are likely to face. Each of the 235 incoming students was matched with a mentor selected from among the D2-D4 classes. The mentors have to be in academic good standing; judged to be able to share with the freshmen the kind of “insider information” (study skills and strategies) they had learned in order to be successful; personable and considerate of the needs of new students; and knowledgeable about NYUCD and its student community.

Mentors receive formal training, which focuses primarily on empowering entering students to deal with key issues, including how to identify and access academic and lifestyle resources, how to adapt successfully to a very demanding urban environment, and myriad other problems, rather than on having the mentor solve the freshman’s problems. Each student mentor, who is responsible for three to four protégés, agrees to help freshmen through the orientation process and to be available to provide general information, support, and encouragement throughout the first year of the DDS program. This includes contacting incoming students prior to their arrival at NYUCD, and every two to three weeks thereafter to check on how they are doing.

Every mentor selected for the program said, “I wish they had had this when I started here.”

The student-mentoring program was created by Mr. Steve Bolan, Director of Student Affairs, who oversaw peer-mentoring programs at several other institutions of higher education before joining NYU.

“As a D2, D3, or D4 student, who ‘knows the ropes’ and can empathize with the experience of being a first-year dental student,” says Mr. Bolan, “the student mentor has the opportunity to make D1 students feel more connected to NYUCD, while also enhancing the NYUCD student community as a whole. It’s definitely a two-way street: the freshmen know that they have a reliable resource and referral agent to turn to for time-relevant information on what it takes to be a happy and successful student at NYUCD, and the mentor gains an increased awareness of others and their challenges, and how to best assist them. The first months of this program have already yielded many compelling testimonials from both freshmen and their mentors.”

Lauren Becker, Class of 2010, Mentor: “Because only one year of dental school separates me from my protégés, I can easily relate to what they are going through.”

Alevtina Malakova, Class of 2010, Mentor: "I think it helps incoming students learn the ways of the College much quicker than they would be able to do on their own. I get a little scared for them, because they have to go through everything I went through. But I know that my being there for them gives them a feeling of calmness."

Josephine Chang,Class of 2011, Protégé: "It's been really wonderful in helping me to adjust not only to school, but also to living in New York, because I miss home a lot. My mentor provides helpful hints on things like how to allocate my time, and also on life stuff, like where to shop and things like that. I feel like being mentored has given me a leg up."

Elyse Kerschner, Class of 2011, Protégé: "It's really helped me to avoid feeling stressed out. I don’t know what I would have done without it."

Justin Chan, Class of 2010, Mentor: "As an undergraduate at UCLA, I also participated in a peer-mentoring program and thought it was very worthwhile. But dental school is so much more rigorous that I think a person needs a mentor even more at this level."