Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Sammantha Garcia - Story of Us

I conducted six total interviews with individuals who are leading or have helped lead important Harvard programs. In order to explore the various types of mentorship, I sought to understand the experiences of individuals whose work has involved participating in the programs below. 

The Peer Advising Fellows (PAF) Program

The Peer Advising Fellows Program was started in 2006 under the Advising Program Office (APO). Today, the PAF program serves the entire first-year class and consists of 220 student PAFs and 8 Eagle PAFs. The program is overseen by Brooks Lambert-Sluder, who helped with the creation of the program in 2006. Student PAFs are undergraduate sophomores, juniors, and seniors selected by the APO office and Eagle PAFs. Students can apply to be a PAF during the spring semester of each year. After one year of being a PAF, students can apply to be an Eagle PAF where they help advise first-year PAFs along with handling administrative tasks that include, but are not limited to, interviewing PAF candidates, running monthly PAF meetings, and handling PAF communications. These positions are compensated on a semester basis. PAFs receive $500 each semester and Eagle PAFs receive $1000 each semester. If students wish to hold a specialty advising role with the Office of Career Services (OCS) they may apply to serve as a Career Cluster PAF or a Pre-Health Peer Liason PAF. Both of these positions are limited, paid, and in partnership with OCS. 

There are several avenues of mentorship that occur within the PAF program. The most important mentorship relationship is that between a PAF and a PAFee. Each PAF is assigned to a first-year student in August for the entire year. These PAFs are assigned to a Harvard first-year dorm where they will work with other PAFs and a Proctor. A Proctor lives in a Harvard first-year dorm and oversees 20 to 40 students in a first-year dorm entryway. The Proctor works alongside a group of PAFs throughout the year to help foster community, supervise first-year students, and support students academically as they navigate Harvard. An entryway is typically given money throughout the year to host study breaks where students are encouraged to attend and meet their entrywaymates. It is important to note that a PAF is randomly assigned a group of 7 to 8 PAFees. 

Another avenue of mentorshp that occurs is between an Eagle PAF and a first-year PAF. At the beginning of the year, first-year PAFs are assigned 1 of 8 Eagle PAFs. This Eagle PAF will lead the monthly Yard meetings that PAFs are required to attend. These Yard meetings consist of administrative updates, PAF check-ins, and advice sessions where PAFs discuss tips to fostering community. Not only is a first-year PAF assigned an Eagle PAF, but they can meet the rest of the Eagle PAFs if they choose to attend their Yard Meetings. As such, Eagle PAFs also serve as mentors to all the PAFs in the program.

First-Year Retreat Experience (FYRE) Program

The First-Year Retreat Experience (FYRE) program is a pre-orientation program officially established in 2020 dedicated to serving incoming first-years from underpresented backgrounds. Before its insttitutionalization, Harvard launched FYRE as a pilot program for the first two-years. The goal of this program is to help incoming first-year students transition throughout a period of 3.5 days. During Summer 2020, FYRE was hosted virtually throughout a period of 2 weeks. Harvard's explicit message is "FYRE aims to provide first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented (FGLI/U students with the resources and community to feel supported, celebrated, confident, and ready to take ownership of your college experience, knowing that you have a special community of friends and advisers to mentor you throughout your first-year at Harvard". 

Their are numerous mentorship avenues that occur during the FYRE program. The most important mentorship that occurs is between the first-years and the student leaders. There are 100 first-years and 20 student leaders. These student leaders are paired together to form ten different "FYRE families" which are made up of 10 students. An essential component of this is that both of the FYRE Co-Chairs work together to specially curate the families and the student leader pairings. The team leaders work together during the program's duration to ensure that students are bonding with each other and upperclassmen students, learning about campus resources, and getting acquainted to Harvard College. While the duration of the program is relatively short, FYRE leaders work hard during the academic year to plan out tthis program. To start planning this program, FYRE Co-Chairs are selected at the end of the fall semester. Afterwards, the Co-Chairs select 4 students to serve as Student Committee members under four roles: mentorship, media and marketing, outreach and partnerships, and logistics and resources. The FYRE Co-Chairs work alongside Harvard administration to plan out the logistics of the program. Both the FYRE Co-Chairs and the Steering Committee then work together during the rest of the year to ensure the program is being planned. The remaining 16 team student leaders are selected during the spring semester. Other mentorship avenues that occur within the program are between Co-Chairs and Steering Committee members and Co-Chairs and student leaders. 

Latinxs in Finance and Technology (LiFT) Organization 

LiFT is an organization that "challenges the narrative of minority underrepresentation in a variety of industries by providing professional resources and support for Harvard Latinx students". This organization was created in 2018 by Calvin Duran, a member of the Harvard College Class of 2021. The organization was founded to challenge underrepresentation in business, finance, technology, media, start-up, and law industries. The board structure of the LiFT organization includes 2 Co-Presidents, 9 different Vice-President roles, and 9 Associate Vice-President roles. The Vice-President roles include Community Engagement, Consulting, Technology, Marketing & Media, Law & Non-Profits, Advisory Board, Operations, Entrepreneurship, and Finance. The Associate Vice-President roles are filled with first-years who are interested in LiFT. One mentorship avenue is between the VP roles and the Associate VP roles. 

At the beginning of the 2020-2021 academic year, the VP of Community Engagement started LiFT's first mentorship program named LiFT Off! This mentorship program pairs juniors and seniors in the community with first-years and sophomores. The goal of this mentorship program was to create a more formalized way to connect students so that they can learn about career opportunities, previous internship experiences, and future employment opportunities. When the program first opened 74 different students signed up which formed 27 different teams. Each team had 1 upperclassmen with 2-3 first-year students. This LiFT Off program was continued in January 2021 where 12 new students signed up which led to 7 different teams. The mentorship program is still functioning and its goal is to continue creating programming that connectts students across all years and backgrounds.     

First Generation Harvard Alumni (FGHA) Program 

The First Generation Harvard Alumni program was founded by Kevin Jennings in 2012. FGHA's central mission is to support first-generation students at Harvard College. One of FGHA's key features is its alumni mentorship program which was the first of its kind when it started. This mentorship program serves over 100 incoming first-years. Mentors are Harvard alumni who volunteer and apply to be a mentor. The mentorship program is currently run by the Student Affairs Co-Directors, Nancy Serrano-Wu and Ted White. One of FGHA's latest projects involves expanding the mentorship program to students not in their first-years. While the first-year mentorship program is meant to help students transition to Harvard, the goal of this pilot mentorship is to help upperclass year students with academics, professional, and grad school experiences. First-year students and upperclass year students sign up for this program by ranking their top choice mentors. The Co-Directors then pair the students with the mentors they believe is best. A goal for the mentorship program going forward is to make the mentorship program more visible to students entering the college by increasing partneships with student organizations. 

Academic Resource Center (ARC) 

The Academic Resource Center seeks to support Harvard College's academic mission by "helping create conditions that will enable all students to access the transformative power of a liberal arts and sciences education". The Academic Resource Center was formally opened in the Fall of 2019 and is located in Harvard Square. The ARC is headed by a Director and 3 staff members that serve as Academic Coaches. The ARC offers a wide variety of events to students that include academic coaching, workshops, peer tutoring, and accountability groups.The primary source of mentorship that occurs within the ARC is during academic coaching where students work one-on-one with an Academic Coach to discuss academic concerns and plans. Students may sign up for one academic coach session a week and sessions are 45 minutes long. During accountability group sessions, students may work for 45 minutes together. Academic coaches spend 10 minutes before and after to check-in with students and ask them about their group goals. ARC workshops seek to help students prepare academically and learn the best tips to succeed. Peer tutoring is available to students to feel they need specialized course support at the college. The service is free of charge and is is led by Harvard students. 

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