First-year mentors help new students adjust

The BYU First-Year Mentoring Office connects freshmen with people and resources to prevent them from going through their first-year college experience alone.

From left: Heidi Grether, BYU First-Year Mentoring program director Phil Rash and Brian Ridd stand outside the First-Year Mentoring Office. Ridd said he has helped many students struggling with feelings of loneliness. (Andrea Warnick)

Brian Ridd is a peer mentor in the First-Year Mentoring Office and has helped many students struggling with feelings of loneliness.

“I think there is a big part of the social aspect that creates a struggle,” Ridd said. “That creates a lot of stress, and I think that’s kind of where the loneliness sets in a lot, is that for a lot of students you’re away from home, you’re away from parents, away from siblings and there’s a struggle to find who you can rely on.”

Heidi Grether has been a peer mentor for several years and encourages her students to get involved. Grether said she’s not one for clubs or student government, and while some students really love those things, she reminds her students there is a wide variety of ways for meeting people.

“Sometimes you don’t click with your roommates, but you have a ward and you have classes,” Grether said. “There’s a lot of different ways to meet people and get to know people, so just be patient and be involved and put yourself out there.”

Ridd said he remembers meeting with a student last fall who was naturally introverted and shy. Ridd and the student decided to set goals for themselves.

“The mentality we have here at BYU is that you walk into a class and the first thing you do is look for a spot where there’s three seats so you can sit in the middle and there’s no one sitting next to you,” Ridd said. “So we set the goal to walk into a class and sit next to somebody instead of sitting in that open seat. It’s a small thing to be able to do to make those connections, and those goals can come in so many different forms.”

Peer mentors are always involved with New Student Orientation at the beginning of each term or semester. Ridd said New Student Orientation helps students get acquainted with campus and other people.

Ridd said he echoes encouragement from President Kevin Worthen and former BYUSA leadership, who have often said “find your thing.” Whether it is small or big, everyone can find something they’re passionate about and pursue it, Ridd said.

From left: Heidi Grether works with Tori Fullmer, another peer mentor in Hub at the Harold B. Lee Library. (Amber Thornton)

Grether said she once mentored a student who was from Texas. The student was far from home where her family, boyfriend and close friends lived, and she didn’t know anyone at BYU. She was very successful academically and got along well with her roommates, but she struggled with homesickness.

“I think that homesickness correlates a lot to that feeling of loneliness and not feeling like you fit in,” Grether said.

Grether asked the student what was most helpful about the semester in their last meeting, and the student said coming and talking with Grether helped her the most. She said she could go days on end without talking to anyone, but having a peer mentor to talk to had a big impact on her.

“If you are feeling lonely, finding someone like that — someone you can talk to — and talk about why you’re feeling lonely with helps,” Grether said. “I think also encouraging people to be that person and to be aware if there’s a circumstance like that where a roommate or a friend or somebody in your ward who may be a little more quiet, maybe you can be that person to talk with them and listen to them.”

Ridd said his role as a peer mentor is to help students with the often-difficult transition to college life. Every first-year student gets assigned a mentor, and each of those mentors will reach out to the students they are assigned to work with. While it varies student-to-student, about 50 to 75 percent of first-year students meet with their mentor at least once, according to Ridd.

First-year mentors receive extensive training on campus resources and act as a bridge for students to find and use those resources.

“The biggest difference between our office and a Google search bar is that personal connection and having someone that actually knows you and is friends with you to help you reflect and set goals,”Grether said.

For more information about BYU First-Year Mentoring, students can visit the website or call 801-422-8176.

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