September 25, 2022

SWASING | The Cycle of Mentorship

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When I was accepted to Cornell, I didn’t know a single soul on campus. There was no high school classmate who had also been accepted, no family member who had gone to Cornell back in the day — there was only me. Then, in the summer before my first year at Cornell, I was contacted on social media by a Cornell student, Sofie Halpern ’22, who was a couple of years older than me and a member of a club I was interested in at Cornell. She welcomed me, congratulated me on my acceptance and we had a short chat. I thought that would be the end of it. Certainly, this girl who was older than me and busy with her own life at Cornell would not have the time to talk to little, measly, pre-freshman me. 

Boy was I wrong. Over the course of the summer and into my first year at Cornell, Sofie reached out often, checking in to see if I had questions or just to get an update on how things were going. She was a guiding light for me as I transitioned into Cornell, and I know she has been for other students too. From Sofie, I learned how to enroll in courses, find the TCAT routes and set up a LinkedIn account, just to name a few. She answered every question I had (and there were a lot of them). Sofie is a special kind of person, the kind who can remember what it was like to be new and need help. She offered the kind of support that makes a person feel like they aren’t so alone. Even a few years later, Sofie and I are still in touch, and we get together every now and then for a check-in. 

Because of Sofie, I chose to become a peer advisor within my college at Cornell. I want to offer the same support to new students that Sofie offered to me. This position, in addition to all of Sofie’s help, has gotten me thinking about what the roles of upper and underclassmen students are at Cornell. 

First, the upperclassmen. It is our duty to each be like Sofie in some way. The thing is, there was no reason for Sofie to go out of her way to be so kind to me and show me the ropes. She didn’t get anything out of it, and it certainly took up time and space in her life that she could have used for other things — probably things less annoying than answering every question under the sun from one very uninformed first-year (yours truly). There’s no spot on Sofie’s resume that highlights her time as an unofficial mentor, no secret motivation for helping me. She helped me just because she could, because she knew it was something I needed that she could provide, and maybe even because someone had done the same for her. 

I think that’s true for each of us. We’ve all been guided through one problem or another during our time here because someone older than us offered advice, introduced us to a new solution or path or in some way shed light on information that we never would have found otherwise. It is our job as upperclassmen to continue that cycle. We don’t need to force underclassmen into taking the same exact path as us, but we certainly should be sharing what we have learned along the way. 

Next, the underclassmen. Take advantage of the upperclassmen that want to help you. As a peer advisor, I’m actually not required to check in with my advisees as much as you would expect. We have one meeting during orientation week, and after that, it’s up in the air. I can continue to reach out to them if I want, and they can continue to send me questions if they have them. Probably because of my experience with Sofie, I knew I wanted to be more for my advisees than just a face they saw once during their first week at Cornell. So, imagine my disappointment when I sent them a check-in email last week and was met with an empty inbox and cricket noises. I know my advisees are all off living busy Cornell lives of their own, but this is my advice to you as underclassmen: 

In just a couple very short years, you won’t be an underclassman anymore. With each passing year, there are fewer and fewer older students for you to learn from. I had a teacher in high school who used to say that you are doing the most learning when you are the least smart person in the room. This could not be more true as an underclassman at Cornell, when everyone has more experience than you. While you are still an underclassman, take advantage of the wealth of knowledge from the students around you who have already trudged through the path you are trying to take and just might be able to point you to an easier route. You don’t have to do what those before you have done. In fact, I encourage you to take your own route as often as you can, but when you make that route, allow it to be guided by the roadmaps of those before you. 

We all have a role to play during our time here at Cornell, be it learners or leaders — or both. It is important that each of us take advantage of this opportunity to share knowledge and support each other. There aren’t many other times in life that we will be surrounded by such a variety of people to learn from and share our own wisdom with. Don’t let this time pass without offering your hand out to those who need it and learning from those who know more than you. 

Halle Swasing (she/her) is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected]Goes Without Swasing runs every other Sunday this semester.