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Helping in a Major Way

Peer academic advising program helps students navigate the curriculum

For students, advice is never in short supply, but finding truly useful counsel can be a challenge, which is why the Peer Academic Link (PAL) has become so popular. "PAL has the great advantage of being one-on-one, student-to-student, and it complements the advising the administration offers by providing things we don't provide," says Cecilia Gaposchkin, assistant dean of the faculty for pre-major advising.

Peer Advisors
Peer Academic (PAL) founders Christina Luccio '07 (left) and Severina Ostrovsky '07 (right) meet with Brevan D'Angelo '10 in the Occum Commons lounge in the new McLaughlin residential complex. D'Angelo is one of many students who has turned to PAL student advisors for advice on courses and majors. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

PAL is the brainchild of Severina Ostrovsky '07 and Christina Luccio '07. As juniors, they inherited a student-run peer advising program created by former student body president Julia Hildreth '05. Responding to student feedback, they substantially revamped that program, which paired each incoming first-year student with an upperclass buddy at the start of the fall term. Under the streamlined system developed by Luccio and Ostrovsky, the peer advisors, known as Pals, are carefully vetted applicants who represent their major department. "There are 130 Pals, which seems like a big number," says Ostrovsky, "but it isn't that big in the sense that we have a lot of majors and there are two to five Pals per department."

Students get access to the program via the Web. The site serves as both a clearinghouse for the College's many academic advising resources and as a direct link to the Pals, listed by department and including a wealth of information about the major based on their personal experiences. Aimed primarily at helping students navigate departments and choose a major, the Pal-provided content is detailed and candid. And if the Web site doesn't answer a student's question, he or she can contact a Pal directly.

Brevan D'Angelo '10 turned to PAL when he was unsure of whether to continue taking a chemistry class. "When I contacted the people who do PAL, I was surprised with how quickly they responded to my questions," he says. "They were extremely helpful and the information they gave me allowed me to make a decision regarding the class. I ended up really enjoying that class, but without PAL I might have made the wrong decision."

Pals get a lot of questions about specific classes and faculty, says Luccio. "They also act as liaisons to their departments. They meet with the chairs and administrators to convey what students want to know." PAL also works with the Dean's Office Student Consultants (DOSCs), a group of seniors who serve as academic peer advisors through the Office of the Dean of the College. At Major Enlightenment, a DOSC event to introduce sophomores choosing a major to department faculty, Pals were present to represent the student experience in each department.

Unlike the original incarnation of the peer advising program, PAL is available to any student. Because it is accessed through the Internet, students can take advantage of it at any time, not just during orientation. "I think the Web interface appeals to the way students work and interact," says Gaposchkin.

Luccio and Ostrovsky are slated to graduate in June, but both they and Gaposchkin fervently hope that the program will survive their departure. "Our concern is how to find people who are committed to taking over," says Luccio.

"We'll be working this term to find someone to take over and on creating a protocol outlining a schedule for running the program," says Ostrovsky. "The most important thing is to find someone who isn't going to give up on it."

By GENEVIEVE HAAS

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Last Updated: 5/30/08