SASS program pairs freshmen, staffers

Each member of the freshman class will be assigned to a University staff member this fall, as part of a new mentoring program designed to guide students in their social and professional lives.

Senior administrators will be among several hundred participants in the Guide to Personal Success Program, a new division of Student and Academic Support Services.

“Too often students have a problem or issue and don’t know who the right person is to turn to,” said Brian Hamluk, the GPS program director. “By having their guide available right away and knowing who their guide is even before they step on campus in August, we are confident that students will see the benefit of meeting with their guide.”

About 100 of the 450 guides will come from SASS, including Robert Chernak, senior vice president for SASS, and Dolores Stafford, chief of the University Police Department. Each guide will be assigned to four or five freshman. Others will come from University departments such as academic departments, the libraries, financial operations and the alumni and development offices, SASS administrators said.

Starting this summer, all guides will go through a two-day training session to learn how to support students on a one-on-one basis.

“Guides will be trained in helping students get directed to the proper professionals at the University who are, after all, the experts in their fields,” Chernak said. “Hopefully the guides will also be proactive with their assigned students to help anticipate and address surfacing minor – but many times irritating – issues before the problem escalates.”

Konwerski said guides will work to help students improve “personally, professionally, socially, and ultimately as a member of the GW academic community of scholars.”

“For me it is exciting to have another way to connect with incoming students and offer my own insight and perspective to students coming to campus,” Konwerski said.

The pairs will be matched up based on common interests or experiences. Stafford, for example, said she hoped to be paired with a sports fan – because she played rugby, basketball, softball and field hockey in college – or someone thinking about pursuing a criminal justice career.

“My profession is law enforcement but I chose to do that type of work on the college campus because I enjoy being around college students,” Stafford wrote in an e-mail. “I have had the opportunity to work with and build relationships with many students over the past 16 years – some have worked for UPD, did internships and volunteered. Being around them is one of my favorite parts of the job, so I am looking forward to being a part of this new initiative.”

Administrators at SASS stressed that GPS guides would not replace academic advisers but would instead fulfill a more informal role to help freshman acclimate to GW and live in the District.

“I am looking forward to connecting with students on other issues that they are excited about, including getting to know the city I have loved for the past twenty years including its great neighborhoods, tourist sites, cultural restaurants and annual events,” Konwerski said.

In addition to staff members as guides, Konwerski said the GPS program hoped to include young alumni after a focus group earlier in the year expressed interest in having former student leaders act as their guides.

“No one has a better pulse on the campus experience than those students who are most dedicated to the school,” Konwerski said. “I know Brian and Dr. Chernak hope we can make that happen.”

Although the exact budget for the program has not been allocated, Hamluk said the University has made “a significant commitment” to GPS program to ensure its success. The allotment will include funds for meals and other gatherings for guides and their students.

Karelia Pallan contributed to this report.

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