Meet the 2020-21 Peer Mentors

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Department of Economics peer mentors are ready to assist prospective and current majors in providing advice and information regarding the economics major. This year’s peer mentors are Alya Ahmed, ‘21; Derek Chen, ‘22; and Lara Varela Gajewski, ‘21.

“I believe the peer mentor program to be a great tool for connecting students in the department,” said Lara Varela Gajewski who is a returning mentor. “Beyond the heightened sense of community, it is a wonderful way to get advice from upper classmen and get to know professors outside of classes!”

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.

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 third 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.

“I decided to be a peer mentor because I would not be an economics and math major if not for the work of last year’s peer mentors, so I want to pay it forward,” said Alya Ahmed who is serving first-time mentor. Thankful to former mentor Devesh Aggarwal’s encouragment, Ahmed said she was better able to navigate the requirements. ”I am so happy to have found a major that I really enjoy,” she quipped.

Echoing Ahmed, fellow mentor Derek Chen said, “Peer mentors helped me, and I want to pass it along! I reached out to peer mentors last year to discuss course offerings, and they were super helpful in sharing their experiences. I listened to their advice and really enjoyed the courses they recommended.”

“The program is going well,” said Director of Undergraduate Studies and Economics Professor, Ebonya Washington, who also oversees the mentors.  “The students are innovating and improving our department.” 

Professor Washington has full confidence in her team. “I want to continue to let the students lead,” she said. “They know what kind of sessions/programs will be most helpful to students. And with the peer mentor program they can bring those things to fruition.”

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

The mentors are looking into hosting several events over the upcoing year, including bluebooking events, weekly office hours, a big sib/little sib program across the department, a professor coffee chat series, and some more diversity focused events. The group is also considering hosting panel discussions to be held on video conferences.

Due to COVID-19, the mentors will have to be creative with their gatherings. “Fortunately, technology makes connecting during the pandemic very accessible,” said Varela Gajewski. “I plan on having weekly office hours where students can drop into a zoom conference with any questions or just to chat.”

Professor Washington noted the importance of the study groups organized by the mentors. “It was first-year peer mentor, Sarah Hamerling, who thought it was important to organize study groups for students in courses in which they could not find anyone to study with,” said Washington. “This is a diversity issue. Sarah found that female students were more likely to sign up indicating that they were not able to find a study group in their economics course. I believe that this is a great benefit to first and second year students but I don’t have data to back this up.”

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.