Peer Mentors program provides support to first-year students

By Gabrielle Drillis

There are currently 16 Peer Mentors providing support and guidance to first-year students.

Navigating the first semester of college is an exciting and unpredictable journey. The combination of living on your own, taking on rigorous academics, making new friends, and adjusting to a new environment in the heart of Boston presents many new opportunities, but can also be a large undertaking for any first-year student. 

As the Assistant Director of Student Services at the College of General Studies, Jihyeon Choe plays a pivotal role in fostering a supportive campus environment to help students successfully navigate this transition. Choe facilitates and oversees various student leadership programs, including the Dean’s Host and Peer Mentors programs, both designed to help current and prospective CGS students adjust to life on campus.

Mentors are second-year or upperclassmen students who volunteer to help first-years navigate their first semester at Boston University. Social events, weekly office hours, and one-on-one opportunities with their mentors help mentees become comfortable with the school community, campus, and make new friends.

Growing the Program

Assistant Director of Student Services Jihyeon Choe has overseen the growth of the Peer Mentors program. Photo courtesy Jihyeon Choe

The Peer Mentor Program was initially created by Heidi Chase, a former Assistant Director of Student Services and academic advisor at CGS, and had eight Peer Mentors in its first year. When Choe stepped into the role, she used her personal struggles through her college experience as motivation to expand the Peer Mentor program. 

Like many college students, she faced challenges both academically and socially, until she met her own student mentor who helped guide her through her university journey. Recognizing the power of mentorship, Choe built upon Chase’s idea of creating a program that would provide first-year students with a valuable support system. 

“Think about successful people, they all have mentors. I wanted to apply this to an academic setting,” Choe said. 

The program focuses on maintaining strong connections between mentors and mentees, fostering a sense of community through social events, and guiding students through their first year academically, socially, and emotionally. 

Mentorship in Action

Jairo Zelaya (‘23, COM ‘25) is a junior studying Film & TV in the College of Communications who is heavily involved on campus as a student worker at the Newbury Center for first-generation students, member of the Beat Boxing Club, Alternative Service Break, and Delta Kappa Alpha. Zelaya was ultimately able to navigate his first and second years successfully to reach the point he is at today, but acknowledges that not having a mentor made the task a daunting one. 

“I wish I had someone I could have gone to during my freshman year of CGS,” Zelaya said. “I had an academic advisor, but I didn’t have someone I could go to for advice or just to talk.”

Zelaya’s own experience during his first year at BU prompted him to accept the invitation to apply for the Peer Mentors program. In doing so, he has seen the tangible impact mentorship has made on first-years who are struggling with some of the same issues he did. 

“I listen to them, listen to their problems, and provide suggestions to help make their freshman year go smoother,” he said.

Choe wanted mentors and mentees to have a safe space to meet and chat, and the Gilbane Lounge has become the center for that. All peer mentors host weekly office hours in the lounge for mentees to drop in and ask questions, chat, or just hang out. 

Caroline Dodge (‘23, COM ‘25) hosts office hours in the Gilbane Lounge Tuesdays from 3-5 p.m. and Fridays 2-4 p.m. where mentees, primarily from Team C, can stop by to talk and ask for advice.

“I see the Peer Mentor program as providing an older guide and support system,” Dodge said.“I tell [students] the tips and tricks of BU.”

Taking part in the Peer Mentor Program has offered Dodge more than just the ability to help first-year students. Giving back to the communities she is a part of is a large aspect of Dodge’s life, making the role of a mentor both familiar and fulfilling for her. 

Furthermore, the program has helped Dodge visualize just how far she has come in her time at Boston University thus far.

“It is crazy to think I am giving advice on CGS classes, professors, and the London trip when I was just there two years ago,” Dodge said.

Academic advisors are an integral part of the college experience and have guided hundreds of students through their two years in CGS. However, sometimes it can be nerve wracking for a student to talk to an older adult about personal issues. 

Ways to Connect

Having access to mentors who are actively going through the college experience at the same time adds a new level of comfort and relatability to mentorship.

“Not every student might not want or need this, but it is nice to know some do need us and that we are there for them,” said Zelaya.

Academic advisors also play a direct role in the success of the Peer Mentor Program. Each semester, advisors are asked to nominate one or two of their students who have demonstrated excellent leadership and qualities. Once Choe receives these nominees, she interviews each candidate and uses a holistic approach to make her final decisions on who to invite into the program. 

“GPA is not really relevant. I am looking at each candidate holistically,” said Choe. 

Peer Mentors speak with students at an event earlier this semester. Photo courtesy Jihyeon Choe

Currently, Choe has constructed a team of 16 Peer Mentors and has assigned two mentors to each of the eight academic first-year teams. Every student in CGS has access to these Peer Mentors, and students are not limited to just the mentors on their respective team.

In the future, Choe hopes to expand the program to at least three mentors for each CGS team, offer more social events and activities, and increase outreach so more students are aware of this resource. 

Mentors and mentees from all CGS teams are encouraged to mingle at monthly social events. Choe typically designs these events with a theme in mind and offers different activities and crafts that promote group bonding. Earlier this semester, the Peer Mentors Program hosted a Valentine’s Day social during which students made valentines, listened to music, ate snacks, and hung out in a comfortable and casual setting away from their academics. 

Choe looks forward to the future successes of the Peer Mentors Program and is continuously inspired by the teamwork and community created by her students.

“The Peer Mentors are really great,” she said. “They each have their own unique characteristics. [It] is such an inspiring job.”

To learn more about the peer mentor program, reach out to Jihyeon Choe at or visit the CGS Peer Mentors Program page.