Above: Peer academic coach Janae Dorsey (left) works with a fellow student in Addlestone Library.
We’ve all heard the saying, “If you give a man a fish, he’ll eat for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he’ll eat for a lifetime.” The College of Charleston has taken this maxim one step further by teaching students not just how to learn, but also how to teach others the best ways to learn.
Established in 2011, the Center for Excellence in Peer Education, or CEPE (“see – pee,” as its students call it), is a place where CofC students can learn how to become peer educators. To mark the center’s 10th anniversary as a central hub for training and supporting peer educators, the CEPE will host a drop-in open house from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 8, 2021, in the Lightsey Center, Suite B66.
The CEPE is unique to the College of Charleston; no other large campus in South Carolina has a peer education center. The center serves as a way for students to get involved, help others and become part of the campus community, all while taking on the role of “peer educator.”
According to Page Keller, the center’s director since its establishment, “peer educator” is an umbrella term that encompasses a lot of different roles where any paraprofessional – meaning a recipient of formal training – serves in a peer-helping-peer role. At the College, peer educators are deployed across campus in many different places from academics to student life, fulfilling program specific duties in areas that spark their interests.
Certain peer educators at CofC are required to complete the course Exploring Leadership: Building Peer Facilitation Skills (TEDU 205), which is offered several times per semester. These roles include:
- FYE (First Year Experience) Peer Facilitators
- FYE Abroad Mentors
- School of Sciences and Mathematics Pre-Health Mentors
- Computer Science Mentors
- EDLS (Learning Strategies) 100 Peer Leaders
- Center for Student Learning Peer Academic Coaches
- Impact Peer Academic Coaches
- Charleston Bridge Mentors
- Residence Life Resident Assistants
- Academic Advising and Planning Center Peer Advisors
- Honors Beyond George Street Peer Facilitators
Other peer educators like orientation interns and tutors with the Center for Student Learning (CSL) receive specialized training through their departments and are encouraged to also train with the CEPE.
Students at CofC are encouraged to seek tutoring and study assistance from peer educators for a number of reasons, says Keller. Benefits include improved studying skills and higher academic performance, but there are so many more.
“Students who engage with peer educators have improved reasoning and communication skills, a greater connection to the school and other scholars, increased self-esteem and confidence, and enhanced cultural awareness,” Keller reports.
Not only do peer educators help other students with their work, they also better themselves through this role, learning and practicing service leadership skills that can be immensely valuable later on in the workplace.
“They often positively change their own behavior as a result of participating as peer educators, and they gain essential skills like effective communication with others, higher order thinking skills, and appreciation and awareness of diversity,” says Keller.
One of the CEPE’s peer educators, Janae Dorsey, is a junior double-majoring in computer science and African American studies. Dorsey is a peer academic coach in the CSL who provides accountability and time management help to students on probation.
Before she was a coach herself, Dorsey received help from a peer academic coach at the College. Her progress over the course of a semester was so impressive that she was invited to become a peer educator herself.
“Working for the CEPE has broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to possibilities,” says Dorsey. “The fact that I can help people and give them the help I received is amazing.”
Post-graduation, Dorsey would like to become a project manager in an organization that would allow her to focus on promoting the ideals of diversity, equity and inclusion.
To Lily Andrews, a junior majoring in public health with minors in Spanish and medical humanities, the most valuable part of her experience with the CEPE is her one-on-one meetings with students.
As a First Year Experience (FYE) facilitator, she schedules office hours to speak with students and answer questions that first-year students might be nervous to ask in front of their peers. Andrews enjoys getting to know her mentees and helping them grow in their learning communities. She also works as a peer advisor with the Academic Advising and Planning Center.
Christian Bruegger, an Army veteran and nontraditional student, became a peer educator after one of his professors invited him to be an FYE peer facilitator. Bruegger, who is double-majoring in history and Classics with a minor in European studies, opted in, hoping to be more involved with students on campus.
“As a nontraditional student, I didn’t have to take an FYE, but now that I’m a peer facilitator, I wish I did!” he says.
Bruegger enjoys educating other students about the vast opportunities for growth the College has to offer, from sustainability initiatives to CSL tutors to Cougar Counseling. With a passion for teaching others, he joined the CEPE and found that it enriched not only his leadership skills, but also his identity as a College of Charleston student.
“I hold my head up high and I feel like a member of the school,” he says.
To learn more about the CEPE and how to get involved, visit cepe.cofc.edu.
Rachel Greene Phillips is a senior Honors College student double-majoring in English and marketing, with a minor in studio art.