Department Selects 2019-20 Peer Mentors

Friday, August 23, 2019
2019-20 Peer Mentors (from left to right) Lara Varela Gajewski, Jingyi Cui, and Devesh Agrawa

The Department has selected rising seniors Devesh Agrawal, Jingyi Cui, and rising junior Lara Varela Gajewski as its Economics and Economics & Mathematics mentors for the upcoming year. The primary duty of the mentors is to be available to prospective and current majors for informal advice about the major and give practical advice on navigating the requirements and electives.

Outgoing mentor Sarah Hamerling, said, “I think the peer mentoring program plays an important role in supplementing other advising resources when it comes to questions about the major, job opportunities, and research, but it also really helps in less formal ways: introducing those resources to students who might not even be aware of them and, more broadly, building community in the department.”

Sponsored by the Yale College Dean’s Office (YCDO) and funded by a mini-grant from the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Department of Economics is participating in its second year of the program which targets STEM majors. The initiative’s intent is to bring upper-class majors together with potential first-year and second-year students likely to major in the same field.

Incoming mentor Lara Varela Gajewski said she benefitted from talking to the Economics peer mentors last year. “I found speaking to older students really helpful in choosing classes, and especially navigating the decision to double major,” said Varela Gajewski. In fact, her guidance was the main reason for applying to the position. “I want to similarly help younger students,” she said.

The mentors are encouraged to host occasional informal, community-building events in the department, as well as accompany Director of Undergraduate Studies, Professor Ebonya Washington and Undergraduate Registrar, Qazi Azam at academic fairs for new or recently admitted students.

Professor Washington felt the program went very well in its inaugural year. “The study groups alone are value-added,” she said. “If students have a better experience in the economics courses, they are more likely to major.”

Giving credit where credit is due, Professor Washington praised outgoing mentor, Sarah Hamerling, for her hard work. Besides holding office hours and organizing a summer internship panel and a Mathematics and Economics information session, “Sarah had a lot of good ideas,” said Washington.” One of her most exciting initiatives was organizing study groups.” According to Washington, Sarah was very effective at pairing new students with a group so they did not have to study alone.

Based on the success of the study groups this past year, Professor Washington said the study groups will start earlier in the fall. Another trend both Sarah and Professor Washington noticed was that the study groups were predominately female. “This is a diversity issue,” said Washington who will want to continue targeting female students this year. Ultimately, Washington would like to see economics professors take this initiative on their own.

“Women and people of color were in fact overrepresented at our events, which suggests that the peer mentorship program is really meeting a need for these informal structures to be more institutionalized and accessible,” said Hamerling.

Professor Washington looks forward to the working with the three new mentors and hopes they will make the program stronger. “The new mentors will keep their favorite ideas from the year before and then will build on new activities that will engage students considering majoring or already majoring in economics,” said Washington. “That’s what makes the program exciting.”

Varela Gajewski said she would like to introduce “Blue Booking lunches” or mid-semester afternoon teas where students can ask questions and get advice about economics courses, major requirements, and career options. Another suggestion is meeting with students one-on-one. “I think that we could give the option to schedule individual coffees with students who want a more private setting to talk about the major, courses, or just Yale in general!” said Varela Gajewski.

Hamerling added, “While peer mentorship events this year were certainly valuable for people who attended, I’m hoping that as the program gets older, more students will know about it and come to events.”

As part of the mentors’ training, the YCDO has teamed-up with the Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). Jenny Frederick, CTL Director of Education, said the training will “emphasize principles of strong mentoring and strategies for addressing challenges that might come up, and review basic compliance for issues such as inclusivity and title IX reporting responsibilities.”

For more information about the program, as well as event dates and times, see the Economics Peer Mentoring page.