By Joel Delgado ’12 MS ’17
It doesn’t take long for somebody to find out that Celeste Charles loves FIU.
Whenever family members or friends drop by for a weekend visit, she whisks them around campus, showing off the school’s facilities, artwork, cool sights and more.
For Charles, a junior biology major, her love for the university comes naturally, and it was because of her devotion that she ended up becoming a peer advisor at the beginning of 2013, joining a group of 27 others trained to assist with new student orientation programs throughout the year in addition to other programs for new students and their families.
“We’re students here, too, and they can see that we’re being genuine about FIU,” Charles said. “I don’t have to try and convince anyone. I just love the school. It’s very easy for me to tell people about it.”
The same can be said for senior William Solis, who didn’t want to leave FIU without leaving his mark on campus.
For Solis, a physical education major, becoming a peer advisor was a matter of giving something back to the university that helped open so many doors and opportunities for him.
“We’re here to motivate incoming students. It leaves a lasting impression and it goes a long way,” Solis said. “You want to leave a legacy and this was my way of doing that.”
Not only do peer advisors leave a lasting impression on those students who are in their groups, but they’re the first impression for many.
“We’re the first face they see,” said Fernando Monge, a senior who is also a part of the current group of peer advisors. “Orientation is the catalyst for starting your college career after graduating from high school.”
The work of a peer advisor doesn’t begin or end at summer orientation.
Solis is currently overseeing a group of 25 to 30 incoming freshmen and transfer students new to the campus, taking his own experiences and hoping to impart some of what he’s learned to this new group.
His goal – and the goal of his fellow advisors – is to help the newest batch of Panthers make a smooth transition to life at FIU, encouraging them to get involved on campus while also instilling pride for their new school. One of the most instrumental ways of doing this is through group unity, working together in the classroom and out.
Since students are matched at orientation with peer advisors and other students who share their intended major, it makes it much easier to stay unified both inside the classroom and around campus.
“I told them to get to know each other now, take classes together, study together and pass together,” Solis said.
Charles keeps in contact with her students through a Facebook group she created, which includes approximately 70 of the students who were under her supervision at orientation. The group allowed her to invite students to events on campus and was a forum for students to ask Celeste for advice and connect with each other.
Not only have the peer advisors been able to maintain a relationship with their students, but also with each other, establishing long-lasting relationships with those they have trained with and worked with for almost a year.
“Being a part of the team has made my experience,” Charles said. “They’re all amazing people, and all unique in their own way. We all come from different backgrounds but share a common goal at the same time. They’re not just people I work with, but they’re my friends.”
LEAVING A LEGACY
Although their one-year stint as peer advisors will conclude this upcoming January, Solis, Charles and other peer advisors have already made an impact on the students they have mentored.
Some of the members of Solis’ small group initially did not want to get involved around campus, but now they are joining Greek organizations and clubs, interning with the Student Government Association, and attending events taking place on campus. Others come to him for advice and guidance on class selection, time management and other areas of college life..
One of the freshmen that Charles helped guide throughout her first semester, Noelcy Amador, now wants to become a peer advisor for 2014 and is eagerly waiting to apply when the applications become available Oct. 25. It was during her orientation when Amador, who is also a biology major, realized being a peer advisor would be a perfect fit.
“Just seeing what they do and how they influence incoming freshmen impacted me. I want to help people,” Amador said.
Not only have new students benefitted from having peer advising, but peer advisors themselves have also seen change and personal growth through the process. Monge, an art major who deals with ceramics and pottery, now has a clear career path thanks to his experience.
“It was everything I expected and more,” Monge said. “It’s convinced me to pursue a career in student affairs. I want to work with students, inspire them and help them become better students and better people.”
Working together as a team, speaking in front of large groups and taking on more of a leadership role in their own spheres of influence are just a few of the skills they have developed from their time as peer advisors.
“I definitely feel more comfortable talking to people I don’t know or normally wouldn’t have spoken to before,” Charles said. “I didn’t consider myself to be a leader before, but now I do.”
But for Solis, Charles and Monge, nothing is more rewarding than receiving texts of thanks and seeing their students involved at FIU, thriving on campus. It makes all the long hours and hard work worth it.
“Hearing my students tell me what a difference I’ve made, that’s the main reward,” Charles said. “It makes my day.”
For more information on peer advising and Panther Camp facilitators and how to apply, please contact Ashley Grimes at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Orientation and Parent Programs’ Recruitment and Selection page.