College of Liberal Arts

Peer Mentorship Cultivates Community Among Economic Students

Tue, May 15, 2018
The Economics Peer Mentoring Program helps students create a sense of community on the Forty Acres.
The Economics Peer Mentoring Program helps students create a sense of community on the Forty Acres.

Arriving at college for the first time can be daunting, especially on a campus as large as The University of Texas at Austin. It sometimes can be hard to know where to start or who to turn to.

With that in mind, Jinane Sounny-Slitine, a senior academic advisor for the economics department, started the Economics Peer Mentoring Program (EPMP) in 2011. Her own experience as a UT student told her how difficult it could be to develop genuine connections among 40,000 peers. She wanted to design a program that developed mentors’ leadership skills and cultivated sense of community for new Longhorns.

“I think UT is so large that it’s very easy for students to get lost or feel just like a number,” Sounny-Slitine said. “This program creates a smaller home base on campus for students, where people know your name, where people care about you. That sense of belonging is really important and creating that is one of our main goals.”

The program started out with about 16 participants, but today its numbers reach as high as 90. Both mentors and mentees have the opportunity to build new friendships and always have someone to go to for advice or grab lunch with. 

The participants come from a wide range of backgrounds. Out of the 47 mentors for fall 2019, more than half are women, 15 are first-generation college students and 11 are international students. Between them, the mentors speak 15 different languages and offer a variety of perspectives through their diverse religious views and sexual orientations, which is vital for a worthwhile learning and leadership experience, Sounny-Slitine said

“Diversity and inclusion is so important,” Sounny-Slitine said. “We’re all in this world together, so if you have the opportunity to grow and learn from someone who is different than you, why wouldn’t you want to take that?”

That culture of kindness and inclusivity drives many of the EPMP activities, and charity work is a key component. Locally, students have put together hygiene kits for the homeless population and made Halloween treat bags for Austin's Children Shelter. 

Beyond Austin, mentors and mentees have also written letters to refugees in San Antonio, who were struggling to fit in at school or learn English, sharing their own experiences with the refugees, many of which were similar, and offering words of encouragement. They have also written to students in China, answering questions about what it is like to attend an American university.

A lot of the activities are student-driven and encourage strong bonds between all participants of the program. Many mentees decide to become mentors themselves based on their positive experience in the program.

“The program is a mentorship program, but more importantly it’s a community,” said Thomas Dunleavy, a junior economics major. “I received plenty of help and advice from other mentors in the organization and have made lots of friends with other mentees who are taking the same classes as me and dealing with the same issues.”

This close-knit community inspires students to give back even once they have graduated. EPMP alumni return to give career advice to current mentors, connect them to internships and expose them to new potential professions. To Sounny-Slitine, it’s a testament to the worthwhile connections students build in EPMP.

“That is what is so inspirational and unique about this program I think,” Sounny-Slitine said. “It goes beyond just their first semester as an economics major. It can impact them for many years to come.”

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