Peer mentoring program assists veteran students

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Donny Whitton, PAVE team leader at Veteran and Military Services, talked about some of the challenges and rewards of being involved in the PAVE program as well as his personal duties. Photo by Andrew Hartnett, The Campus Ledger.

Nell Gross

News Editor

ngross1@jccc.edu

Veterans at the college had to quickly learn the ropes of peer mentoring with the addition of the Peer Advisers for Veterans Education (PAVE) program. The college was selected after applying to host the program at the beginning of the fall semester. It is now one of 42 schools throughout the country that has the program.

Developed by the University of Michigan, PAVE aims to connect incoming veterans with veterans who are already enrolled, providing a way to help veterans transition out of military life and back into the routine of being in school. Its main goal is to help create a support system and a safe place where veterans are not afraid to ask for help.

“We feel like in addition to being a contact point for students that need something and a regular touchpoint … that we’re building the feeling of being able to achieve success in the education field,” Veterans Services Coordinator Kena Zumalt said.

Leaving the military means leaving strict routines. By pairing a student with a mentor, that student will have somebody to keep them up to date on events going on at the school, refer them to resources and answer any questions they have. The goal of this outreach is to open up a line of communication where the mentee can reach out to their mentor at any time, whether it’s for something academic related or not.  

“That’s a big transition point for veterans, especially if they’re coming straight in from active duty, they’ve lived a very structured life,” Zumalt said. “They come into school and that can be chaotic and unstructured. So having that touchpoint we think is going to help the students additionally be successful at the college and hopefully attain their goals.”

The PAVE program here at the college is slightly different than those elsewhere because of the addition of peer mentoring. This allows students to help other students, rather than it being a professor or a counselor.

“Our goal is to really show them the ropes and how to be successful, show them the resources on campus and really just be a phone call away,” peer mentor Vinnie Pastella said. 

Veterans interested in joining the program fill out an application and are matched with a mentor. This mentor could possibly have similar interests, the same major or have come from the same branch of the military. Since many veterans returning to school are older than many other students, this provides a way to meet people who are experiencing the same situation.

“The program works to benefit both sides. Helping former service members develop confidence in a new environment while giving the peer adviser a purpose and a way to give back,” PAVE team leader Donny Whitton said.

With the first semester out of the way, the PAVE team hopes to continue to improve and learn from their mistakes. Now focusing on planning things ahead and creating more dialogue with the students involved.

“I see it being a lot more effective as each semester goes on,” Whitton said. “Learning from our mistakes … being able to plan ahead better. You can only prepare so much when you’ve never done it before.”  

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