August 09, 2013

Saluki Peer Mentors ease transition for freshmen

This is one of my favorite times of the year. Classes start Aug. 19, and we are particularly excited to welcome a much larger freshman class as we work to build enrollment at SIU.

Many members of the SIU community have spent months planning Saluki Startup and Week of Welcome – fun and informative events and activities that will help students start the year off right. We know those first few days are full of excitement and uncertainty for our freshmen, most of whom have never lived away from home. There are many adjustments: independence, making new friends, keeping up with homework, enjoying social life, remembering to set the alarm for that 8 a.m. class – and not hitting the snooze button.

Oliver Keys is among the returning students we rely on to help guide our freshmen through not only those first few days, but the entire first year. He is one of our Saluki Peer Mentors, successful students who serve as role models, advisers, and friends. They help our new students develop the academic and personal skills necessary for success in college, and in life.

Now a senior in automotive technology with a minor in marketing, Oliver’s connections to SIU date to his high school days in East St. Louis. He participated all four years in the Paul Simon Leadership Conference, sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. The annual event brings 35-50 junior high and high school students from the Metro East to campus for a weekend of activities that enhance the leadership qualities of African-American young men.

The experiences had such an impact on Oliver that he has served as a conference ambassador throughout his SIU career. He also recalls how much he benefited from the mentoring of older students during his freshman year. He has been helping other students ever since, serving as a new student orientation leader and then becoming a Saluki Peer Mentor last year.

Saluki Peer Mentors help new students adjust to the academic expectations of college. But they also impress upon our freshmen the value of getting involved, so they take them to Saluki football games and other campus activities.

“It can be hard to get students to want to be involved,” Oliver said. “A lot of them go to class and then back to the residence halls. Saluki Peer Mentors provides students with someone who is honest with them, someone who has been through it. I did those same things as a freshman until my resident assistant knocked on my door and got me involved in other activities.”

As he returns to campus after a summer internship with an auto industry firm in suburban Detroit, Oliver anticipates a very busy senior year. Among his many responsibilities will be serving as vice president of the Undergraduate Student Government.

“The busier I am, the more it helps my grade point average,” he said. “The more time I have on my hands, the more I procrastinate. That’s what I tell other students. Being involved is important, and it will help your grades.”

Oliver and the Saluki Peer Mentors are inspiring role models, and I appreciate their commitment. They are making a very positive difference in the lives of many students.