For this chapter in the Sociology 130 book, I will be focusing on my service role as a Peer Advising Fellow (PAF). PAFs are upperclassmen students at Harvard College who advise and mentor first-year students through their formative transition to college. Every incoming freshmen is assigned a PAF. PAFs are assigned to a freshmen entryway, alongside one to two other PAFs and a residential proctor, who lives in the entryway with the students. PAFs meet with students individually and in a group setting to offer advice and guidance, and they also build community by organizing and hosting weekly entryway study breaks or events, or dorm-wide social activities. As described on the application website for those interested in being PAFs, the purpose of the PAF program and the role of individual PAFs is to “help freshmen navigate academic, extracurricular, and social opportunities at Harvard” and “foster inclusion and belonging through individual relationships [and] entryway communities.”
Those who are Peer Advising Fellows are part of a University program recognized by the college and managed by the Advising Programs Office. The Assistant Director of Advising Programs at Harvard College, currently Brooks Lambert-Sluder, oversees the Peer Advising Fellows program. Throughout their time as PAFs, students are trained, supported, and provided with professional development opportunities from the Advising Programs Office, which coordinates with other offices and resources on campus to provide this training. Since PAFs work closely with freshmen and residential proctors in the yard, they also interact with the Resident Deans in the Freshman Dean’s Office and programming staff there.
This chart I have made shows how PAFs work alongside another of other advising systems and advisers to support freshman through their formative first-year experience:
History of the PAF Program
This timeline here gives a sense of the long and complex history of Peer Advising Fellows at Harvard and how Harvard’s most recent effort at formal peer advising came into fruition in 2006:
How does one become a PAF?
The application for new Peer Advising Fellows has two components:
- Required: Application Form
- Sections of application include: Personal Information, Extracurricular Commitments, Your Experiences, and Responses to Advisees (a number of emails from students that you will write responses to).
- As an example, the application form for PAFs for the 2018-2019 year can be found here.
- By invitation: Interview
- A number of successful applicants will make it to the next round and be invited for an interview with an administrator in the Advising Programs Office or a residential proctor, and an Eagle PAF.
- Some of the questions are fairly standard: tell us about yourself, what you do at Harvard, why you want to be a PAF, what type of mentoring/guiding/advising have you done in the past, etc.
- A large chunk of the interview is scenario based questions. These are often tricky scenarios that one could have to deal with as a PAF, and the interviewers are looking to hear your answer as to how one would handle such an issue.
- Also, in preparation for the interview, applicants are asked to prepare an idea for an entryway study break and to describe it briefly.
Typically, the application for PAFs opens in January and is due in February. Deliberations over the first round of applications happens for 2-3 weeks and then a number of successful applicants are invited to interview in late February and March, with letters of appointment typically offered in April.
What are the roles and responsibilities of being a PAF?
As outlined in the PAF letter of appointment that all PAFs sign and return to the Advising Programs Office at the start of each term as a PAF, these are the duties and responsibilities of Peer Advising Fellows at Harvard:
Training, Meetings, and Required Events:
- New PAFs attend a 4 hour training in April prior to getting their advisees in August.
- All PAFs arrive back to campus early in August for three days of training and orientation.
- On First-Year Student Move-In Day, PAFs greet and assist students and their families as they move into their rooms, including helping them to carry their belongings and unload their vehicles.
- PAFs work with other Fellows to create and host a dormitory-wide event designed for all students within the dormitory during Opening Days.
- PAFs must attend and participate in the Course Selection Study Break in Annenberg Hall during Opening Days.
- During Opening Days, PAFs must attend events sponsored by the Advising Programs Office and help support these events.
- During Advising Fortnight in the spring term, PAFs may be required to attend advising events sponsored by the Advising Programs Office and support the events.
- PAFs attend monthly Yard meetings hosted by the Advising Programs Office and Eagle PAFs (lead PAFs).
- PAFs may be required to attend additional professional development sessions over the course of the year.
- PAFs are assigned to an entryway within a first-year dormitory. Within the entryway, they will be assigned between seven and eleven first-year students as their advisees. PAFs will receive information about their entryway team and their advisees in August.
- Upon finding out their advisees, PAFs must write to their first-year students, welcoming them to Harvard, and introducing themselves and the Peer Advising Fellows Program.
- PAFs meet one-on-one with each of their advisees approximately once a month, for at least fifteen minutes.
- At least twice each semester, PAFs must also convene their assigned advisee group for a meeting.
- PAFs record notes from their advising conversations in their advisees’ Advising Journals.
- PAFs make appropriate referrals to other advising resources, including freshman advisers, concentration advisers, Resident Deans, and Harvard offices and departments.
Responsibilities as Part of the Entryway Team:
- In addition to working with individual advisees, PAFs work with the proctor in their assigned entryway and the other PAFs assigned to the entryway.
- These teamwork includes planning and hosting weekly study breaks and entryway events.
- PAFs receive programming funds in the amount of $40 per advisee, per academic year, to support their advisee meetings, study breaks, and dormitory-wide events. They are responsible for using these funds responsibly and managing that budget.