Peer mentoring in History: Annalia Buchanan (FSU BA 2025)

Fri, 01/12/24
Annalia Buchanan

Annalia Buchanan, a junior studying Religion and History at Florida State University, was a peer mentor for the History Department’s Engage 100 course in the Fall semester of 2022. Engage 100 courses are mandatory for incoming FSU students; they are designed to facilitate the transition from high school to college. Each course section approaches this goal slightly differently depending on the background of the person leading it. The classes are small and take place once a week. Annalia’s Engage 100 course was History-focused, it had an enrollment of 19 students. This meant that her students could get to know each other really well over the course of the semester. At the same time, peer mentors like Annalia are close in age to their students, which makes the students feel more comfortable asking questions and seeking advice. This might be anything from where to park, where a certain building is, or how to navigate altering friend-group dynamics.

Annalia was told about the peer mentorship by her academic advisor, and she jumped at the chance. It was a paying position which required her to create lesson plans, lead in-class activities, facilitate discussion, and organize workshops and presentations. But peer mentors do not work alone. Annalia worked in tandem with one of History’s doctoral students who took the lead role in terms of planning and teaching.

For Annalia, being a peer mentor was a rewarding experience that allowed her to develop a variety of skills. “I got better at so many things! Public speaking, organizational skills, lesson-planning, grading, navigating tech for teaching. It also really put things into perspective for me, from an educator’s standpoint.” Peer mentorship isn’t for everyone though. “You have to be someone who can prepare effectively, not just read off of a script,” Annalia cautions, “You need to be flexible to be a really effective communicator.” If she had to weigh the benefits of being a peer mentor against the level of stress that comes with it, Annalia confidently says that results are skewed towards benefits, “because it was such a comfortable environment to figure out how to be an instructor.”

The main assignment of Annalia’s course was something called an engagement plan. This plan was two-fold: on the one hand, students were asked to list the academic classes they’d be interested in taking, think about what major and minor they would like to declare, and research possible future careers. On the other hand, they were asked to become more active in the FSU community by attending and reviewing events on campus.

The end goal of an Engage 100 course is that students have a greater awareness of the resources available on campus, and they have integrated into university life both academically and emotionally. By the end of her own course, the change in Annalia’s students was palpable. “They were so much more confident about succeeding and making the most out of college,” she says, “Some of them came up to me and said ‘Annalia, I’m not scared to ask for help anymore!’ I wish we had an experience like this when I was a freshman.”

Learning how to develop a lesson plan was one of the most rewarding challenges of peer mentoring for Annalia. “The most vital step in the process of writing good lesson plans is thinking about what the most important takeaways are for the class and making a plan that centers around that element! Try not to load yourself up with too much lecture material or assignments. In my opinion, the key to a successful Engage 100 class is facilitating discussion. In my class,” Annalia says, “we were really interested in guiding our students to consider the wide variety of resources at FSU—so I had to be very familiar with them! If a student had a question for me that I didn't know the answer to, I would look it up. Remember—even though you are a Peer Mentor you are still learning.”

Annalia was able to use her peer mentor experience to good effect. As of September 2023, she is an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program leader. When freshmen and sophomores sign up to participate in UROP projects, they are also placed in an accompanying seminar class that teaches them how to conduct research. Annalia leads one of these seminars. Her takeaway is that as a UROP leader, “you have to find the balance between being a thorough educator and overloading busy students.” Students work under faculty supervision on research projects and eventually present their results at a research symposium at the end of the spring semester. Annalia says it has been a great experience so far. “I did not think that I would be in a classroom teaching and facilitating activities this early in my student life.”