I am Gemma Collins, a Senior in Eliot House, concentrating in History. I am very passionate about higher education issues and continuing community engagement, so here on-campus I volunteer in a few public service extracurricular programs. I have held a number of on-campus jobs including working in the Graduate School of Education's Office of Student Affairs, the College's Advising Programs Office, and the Alumni Affairs & Development Office. I am also the President of Harvard Yearbook Publications and used to be the House Committee Chair for my House. This chapter in our "Sociology 130: Student Leadership at Harvard" book will explore my role on campus as a Peer Advising Fellow (PAF), advising freshmen each year - something I absolutely love.
Why Focus On PAFing?
I have chosen to examine this role for this project because of the universality of the PAF position and its interconnectedness with other service roles and student affairs/higher education administration positions. Every single student at Harvard is assigned a Peer Advising Fellow, so it is a universal part of their Harvard advising experience. I think that examining the PAF program for my autoethnography project will be a valuable reflective experience for me too. It is a role I love and have cared so much about during my Harvard experience, but I also think it is important for me to take some time to critically reflect on the challenges and difficulties PAFs face. I think the nature of the PAF role and interrogating more its position and contributions to Harvard will help me see some of the ways that advising structures or training for advisors can be improved to better suit the needs of the diverse student bodies that advisors serve.
Why did I decide to be a PAF?
Moving to Harvard from the United Kingdom and being the first in my family to go to college/university was a really big transition for me and I am eternally grateful for all of the support that my own advisers gave me during my Freshman year here. That’s why I have been a PAF for three years: as a way of contributing back and helping others settle into Harvard and make it their home away from home.
I applied to be a PAF because I knew I wanted to have a positive influence on the lives of freshmen in the same way that my own PAF was a wonderful help and resource for me. I was lucky enough to have a PAF who had been extremely amazing and inspirational, helping to make me feel settled at Harvard and giving me lots of support and advice along the way. As a low-income, first-generation student, I had at first struggled with my transition to college in some ways, and my PAF had been helpful at making that transition much smoother. I have always been someone who has been enthusiastic about helping others and mentoring younger students (I had held similar mentor roles at high school). And as a freshman, I already understood how influential and helpful PAFs were as advisers for freshmen and I hoped I could help contribute to the amazing work they did throughout the college and provide a warm welcome and ongoing support for other students.