Working for FIU’s Office of Orientation and Parent Programs brought me much more than I could have expected. For those that don’t know much about what we do, allow this article to enlighten you. We aren’t just those students you see in navy blue polos jumping and chanting about FIU. We are so much more than that if you let us be. I could write a whole book about peer advising, but here’s my short year in review and what us PA’s really do to prepare for orientation.
From the first day back in January 2016, every Friday from 8am-12pm (sometimes starting earlier, sometimes starting later..), the team begins training. In the beginning weeks, we are introduced to the job, what our roles will be, and even go on a weekend team retreat- but we also spend a lot of time preparing for the Southern Regional Orientation Workshop (SROW) that is put on by the National Orientation Directors Association (NODA).
University orientation programs from our region will go to a hosting school to participate in educational sessions put on by our peers, and team competitions in areas such as Philanthropy, Spirit, and Song, Skit, and Dance. FIU Peer Advisors will attend this conference each year to represent our university, and to learn how we can best welcome our incoming students into a smooth transition. In 2016, the conference was hosted by East Carolina University. My team raised $1,200 in a little over a month to the local food bank of North Carolina, and from our efforts both before and during the conference, we were awarded 1st place in the philanthropy portion!
After SROW, we begin again with our training’s every Friday. Once finals week is over, Training Marathon begins. Training Marathon is the 1-2 weeks before the first summer Freshman Orientation that we train every day from 8 in the morning, to past midnight. Different departments will visit us each day to teach us more about their programs, and how to speak about their programs in the best light. The latter part of the days center around perfecting and memorizing our College Life Skits that we put on for every freshman orientation. We touch on topics such as academic honesty & cheating, depression, stalking, and a college party skit with different scenarios that could happen. We also practice our tours around the university, and we come up with our group names. Any student that had me as an official Peer Advisor was a “Mustafa Mufasa.”
Once the first freshman orientation hit, we were on our own! The pages and pages of notes and things to remember were packed onto our clipboards (and our brains), and every orientation that passed was a chance to educate and relay it all to the students! It was a long, but fun summer and I am grateful for everything I accomplished and achieved with my team. You will acquire and enhance many skills throughout the experience but I’ve narrowed it down to my top 5:
1. Time Management
Life as a Peer Advisor is a full one-year commitment- and you know what you’re signing up for from the beginning. You are given a list of all the dates you need to be available before even interviewing! Once you become a PA, you will have to adjust your other extracurricular activities, and rearrange certain priorities. It’s also about knowing your class schedules, what projects or tests you have coming up because it definitely piles up on you. It’s making it to training on time, and knowing when to leave your house (multiple times the team will lean on each other for wake-up calls, sleepovers, etc). But trust me, it’s totally doable.
2. Public Speaking
As with many other things, public speaking skills come with the role. And if you aren’t very good at it, well you sure will be before you get your first group of students. Being a Peer Advisor, one of our many tasks is to give campus tours! It is our chance to express our love and to relay the many facts about our university to those who know nothing about it! Also, during advising sessions, the academic advisors will call on the PA’s to talk about our experiences, and this could be in a room of 100+ students and parents.
Also, many of our PA’s, including myself had the opportunity to present at SROW. For example, I conducted a workshop in front of 50 other university students about Bruce Tuckman’s five different stages of group development- and I could do it again in a heartbeat. There are many chances to improve throughout the year, and we always had the help of our supervisors, grad assistants, and PACs (Peer Advisor Coordinators).
3. Ability to be a team player
Being on a team of 40+ students, you learn most definitely how to be a better team player. From everything we do throughout the year, it is in our interests to always hear one another out, and compromise to the best of our ability to come up with ideas and solutions. The PA experience will test a group’s strength and patience multiple times, but the way to get past anything is to remember our purpose, and that is the students!!
4. Ability to be comfortable with the uncomfortable
Throughout our process, we are taught to start being comfortable with the uncomfortable. For instance, not just in the orientation world, but in life, we are guaranteed to be put in situations we may not have ever handled before. A lot of times, us PA’s will encounter circumstances that we don’t know how to handle. But we are trained to assess the issue at hand and do our best to handle it in the best way possible. This is a great skill to acquire- being able to adapt and adjust will get you far in future leadership and management roles.
5. The chance to network
Being a PA, you will literally meet and work with at least one person in each department at the school. From each academic advisor to the Residential Life staff to the people who work in the OneCard Office, you name it. Being a Peer Advisor means being a familiar face and connect to most of the university. I always stress to my students how important expanding their professional network is. You never know who you will encounter in your everyday routine. Our faculty and staff are pretty amazing, and many of them have vast experiences and connections that can get you the interview, or the internship you might need for your own career. I took every chance I had to make relationships with as many people as I could. As a matter of fact, I am at my current job because of my time as a PA (but that’s a story for a different article)!
I take pride in completing my role as a PA, and knowing I had a helping hand in introducing our university to hundreds of incoming freshman and transfer students. I can honestly say everything about the job- yes, everything- was entirely worth it. I look forward to our new team of PA’s and can’t wait to see all they will accomplish!
Aziza Mustafa 2016 Peer Advisor Group #11- Mustafa’s Mufasas
Special thanks to those that played a helping hand in my role as a PA, and for continuing to play mentor roles as I pursue future endeavors: Ashley Grimes, Korrin Anderson, Amy Kay, Alina Quintana, Marc Mobley, my 2016 Peer Advisor team, Amber Walter, Marlee Bergmair, Ariel Robinson, Sanjay Dhawan, Morgan De La Madriz.