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Cross-faculty initiative sees grad students help mentees prepare for grad school

Peer-to-peer Psychology Mentorship Program brings together Werklund and Faculty of Arts students
May 18, 2017
Jacqueline Beatch, Art Assoiants and Laura Flanigan created the Psychology Mentorship Program to build community among psychology students. Photo by Clayton MacGillivray, Werklund School of Education

Jacqueline Beatch, Art Assoiants and Laura Flanigan created the Psychology Mentorship Program to build community among psychology students. Photo by Clayton MacGillivray, Werklund School of Education

Graduate psychology students in the Werklund School of Education and the Faculty of Arts have teamed up to create the Psychology Mentorship Program. The purpose of the cross-faculty initiative is to bring graduate student mentors together with undergraduate student mentees to share information about available graduate school options, promote leadership, and break down barriers between students.

“Our goal is to help undergraduate students feel better supported and prepared for graduate school while allowing graduate students to impart their knowledge and share their stories,” explains Art Assoiants, co-founder and master’s student in Counselling Psychology. “The mentorship program creates a link between undergraduates, who are bombarded with confusing and often contradicting information, and graduates, who have lived experience navigating the graduate school application process.”

Students are paired based on program of study and common research interests; they then meet informally throughout the school year. Interest in the endeavour surpassed expectations as 34 undergraduate and 45 graduate students signed up to participate. 

Experience benefits both undergrads and grad students

Fourth-year psychology student Stephanie Howe found the graduate program information sessions she attended to be useful, and says connecting with a mentor individually provided her with a number of specific insights. “I knew that I wanted to go to grad school but I was pretty intimidated about the whole process. My mentor helped me with my CV and honours application; her feedback made me much more confident about what I was submitting as well as more confident in my future as a whole.”

But it is not only the mentees who benefit from the relationship. Assoiants says the mentors who volunteer their time also gain valuable leadership skills, self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment by giving back to their fellow students. 

Michelle Zepeda, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Clinical Psychology, says her time as a mentor was well spent. “It was a good opportunity to help undergraduate students to think about their graduate careers and navigate their undergraduate studies. As a former undergraduate student in the Department of Psychology, I personally know how difficult it can be to get this type of information.”

Susan Boon, director of undergraduate studies for the Department of Psychology, adds that students can sometimes be intimidated by their supervisor, so peer-to-peer communication can be quite valuable. “Connecting with another student can help eliminate this potential barrier, as the individuals may be more willing to ask questions or express frustrations with someone of similar age and experience.”

Two faculties collaborate on shared psychology programs

The collaborative nature of the program reflects the structure of psychology programs, which are offered not only in the Faculty of Arts but also in the Werklund School of Education.

This arrangement is common at universities throughout Canada, explains Jac Andrews, chair of the School and Applied Child Psychology specialization in the Werklund School.

“School psychology and counselling psychology have been typically housed within education faculties rather than social science faculties due to our focus on children and youth during their developmental years, and within the context of their education and schooling, particularly with respect to their intellectual, academic and social-emotional/behavioural development.”

Collaboration reflects psychology program structure across faculties

The program came into being when Assoiants contacted the Department of Psychology looking for someone interested in sharing information across the two programs. Jacqueline Beatch, a PhD student in clinical psychology responded to his request. Beatch says, “We realized that we had quite a bit in common in terms of experiences applying to graduate school and within our respective programs.”

Assoiants and Beatch also found they had both benefited from mentorship opportunities they experienced at other post-secondary institutions. With this in mind, they invited leaders in the UCalgary psychology community, including Melissa Mueller, then president of The Association of Undergraduate Psychology Students (PSYCHS), and Laura Flanigan, a PhD student in School and Applied Child Psychology, to be part of the enterprise.

“Through trial and error, consultations both internally and externally, the three of us in partnership with PSYCHS, rolled out the program in the fall of 2016,” says Beatch.

Next steps include evaluation, presentation at conference

The founders are currently in the process of evaluating the program to learn from the bottom up what is going on and what changes should be made.

“The purpose of the evaluation is to learn, using our tools and methods, what’s going on ‘under the hood,’ so to speak. How often do the mentors and mentees meet, how was their mentorship match, and the like. We want to give mentors and mentees an opportunity to share what they enjoyed, what they did not, and what they wished would look different,” says Flanigan, who was recently awarded the Psychologists' Association of Alberta (PAA) Masters Research Award.

The trio will be presenting the findings of their assessment at the PAA annual conference in Edmonton and hope to share this model with other post-secondary institutions.

Students interested in learning more about the mentorship program can email psycmentor@ucalgary.ca.