Support Spotlight: SASP Peer Success Coaches Give Students a Warm Welcome and Direct Path to Success

Support Spotlight: SASP Peer Success Coaches Give Students a Warm Welcome and Direct Path to Success

Support Spotlight: SASP Peer Success Coaches Give Students a Warm Welcome and Direct Path to Success

“The SASP Peer Success Coaching Program, one of our key initiatives, ensures that the 1,900 students in our first-year and transfer seminars acclimate to life at John Jay and are prepared for success beyond their first semester.” —Nancy Yang

When you meet the Student Academic Success Programs (SASP) Peer Success Coaches, the first thing you notice is how genuinely happy and confident they all are. That joy stems from the work they do every day here at John Jay, helping our newest students transition into College life. And that confidence comes from the training and guidance they receive from Nancy Yang, Associate Director of First Year Programs, Jay Chopra, SASP Peer Program Coordinator, and Ximena Garcia-Lambas, SASP Peer Program Associate. “Student Academic Success Programs provides a network of programs and services designed to give undergraduate students integrated learning experiences and tailored support along their academic journey,” said Yang, providing information on SASP as a whole. “The SASP Peer Success Coaching Program, one of our key initiatives, ensures that the 1,900 students in our first-year and transfer seminars acclimate to life at John Jay and are prepared for success beyond their first semester.”

(left to right) Ximena Garcia-Lambas, SASP Peer Program Associate; Nancy Yang, Associate Director of First Year Programs; Jay Chopra, SASP Peer Program Coordinator
(left to right) Ximena Garcia-Lambas, SASP Peer Program Associate; Nancy Yang, Associate Director of First Year Programs; Jay Chopra, SASP Peer Program Coordinator

Learning the Program’s History & Mission
Yang started the Peer Success Coach program eight years ago with the goal of developing a model where students help other students. Initially, the program was only tied to the first-year seminars. “At the time it was called the Peer Mentoring Program, and there were only 12 peers who mentored about 600 students,” said Yang. “Eight years later our mission is the same but we have a far greater reach,” she said, adding that Peer Success Coaches now mentor incoming freshmen, transfer students in transfer seminars, and sophomores in special cohort programs. “Now, we have 46 Peer Success Coaches that support 1,900 John Jay students on an individual level.”

Peer Success Coaches support students by helping them identify their academic and professional goals, and formulating a plan to reach those goals; they provide students with direct access to campus resources; and help them find solutions to all kinds of obstacles. To ensure Peer Success Coaches are ready to support new students, they undergo weeks of training and take a two-semester, 300-level Human Services course with Yang, where they learn communication, listening, and helping skills. “The training curriculum allows us to provide more sophisticated services, like the one-to-one coaching sessions and workshops. They also get training to be even more relatable and empathic,” said Yang. In all, they receive 140 hours of training a year ensuring that each coach has the ability to provide support to their students.

“There’s a great impact when peer success coaches and faculty come together with a common goal of encouraging and promoting student success.” —Jay Chopra

Another key part of the program is the collaboration with faculty. In first-year and transfer seminars, the Peer Success Coaches and faculty work together, figuring out ways to enhance the students’ educational experience. “It’s a really unique opportunity that our team has. By partnering with faculty, Peer Success Coaches get the experience of better understanding faculty’s perspective when they teach in front of a class and can empathize with them. And faculty has the ability to better understand the minds of their students. It’s also a great learning experience for students on how to speak to professors confidently,” said Chopra. “Our faculty really respect the Peer Success Coaches. They see them as partners and are motivated to work with them. There’s a great impact when Peer Success Coaches and faculty come together with a common goal of encouraging and promoting student success.”

 (left to right) Peer Success Coaches Yogita Tandon ’20, Rosalma Pineda ’21, Zafar Seenauth ’21, with Ximena Garcia-Lambas, Nancy Yang, and Jay Chopra
 (left to right) Peer Success Coaches Yogita Tandon ’20, Rosalma Pineda ’21, Zafar Seenauth ’21, with Ximena Garcia-Lambas, Nancy Yang, and Jay Chopra

Welcoming New Students
The most essential component of the Peer Success Coaching experience is the peer-to-peer mentoring. It’s proven to be effective, with students more inclined to engage with their peers—someone who has walked in their shoes. “There’s something very magical about a student who’s just a little bit older than you providing you guidance,” said Yang. “Students don’t feel embarrassed to ask a question or discuss issues.”

“That first friend experience we offer students—before they even know they need a friend—is really meaningful.” —Zafar Seenauth ’21

Talking about what her experience was like when she first came to John Jay, Peer Success Coach Yogita Tandon ’20, spoke of the immediate connection she felt with her own Peer Success Coach. “When Daniela, my Peer Success Coach, first reached out to me via email, I was really excited because she was a student and we shared similar interests,” said Tandon. “I was scared because this college experience was new to me, but just knowing I already had someone in my corner before I stepped foot on campus, meant the world to me.” As a Peer Success Coach, Zafar Seenauth ’21 has seen how that initial contact can put a new student at ease. “I work more directly with the students who are coming straight from high school,” he said. “That transition is terrifying for most of them, so that first friend experience we offer students—before they even know they need a friend—is really meaningful.”

(left to right) Peer Success Coaches Yogita Tandon ’20, Zafar Seenauth ’21 and Rosalma Pineda ’21 listen to Yang and Chopra speak about the program
(left to right) Peer Success Coaches Yogita Tandon ’20, Zafar Seenauth ’21 and Rosalma Pineda ’21 listen to Yang and Chopra speak about the program

For Rosalma Pineda ’21, her interest in joining the SASP Peer Success Coaches team, stemmed from the support she received from her own Peer Success Coach. “I remember when I first started at the College. I was very shy, I didn’t take part in campus activities, and I felt very left out. But then I met my Peer Success Coach,” said Pineda. “She encouraged me to come out of my shell, and lifted me up until I had the confidence to lift myself up. I knew that if I ever had the opportunity, I would want to do the same for someone else.” Now that she’s a Peer Success Coach, Pineda strives to instill confidence in her mentees, something that Garcia-Lambas encourages all Peer Success Coaches to do. 

“The goal for the coaches is to make all of our students as independent as possible, while also uplifting them.” —Ximena Garcia-Lambas

“The goal for the coaches is to make all of our students as independent as possible, while also uplifting them. Many students come into college thinking, ‘It’s not for me, I don’t belong.’ And that affects their academic standing,” said Garcia-Lambas. “Our hope is that in a student’s first year, through the help of the program and the Peer Success Coaches, they learn that they do belong, and that they’re absolutely ready to succeed. We’ll give them the tools they need, but they’ll be the ones putting in the work.”

Chopra and Yang share a laugh
Chopra and Yang share a laugh

“It’s a ripple effect of goodness, and a cycle of leadership and growth that I know will only continue to get better.” —Nancy Yang

Paving the Way Forward
For Yang, the success of the SASP Peer Success Coaches is awe-inspiring, makes her proud, and at times, leaves her speechless. “To see how far the program has come in just a few years is amazing to me. I would have never dreamt it would become this program where we’re supporting nearly every single incoming freshman and so many of our transfer students,” said Yang, mentioning that what she’s always treasured is bearing witness to a student’s growth. “The most exciting and favorite part for me is seeing the evolution of each student impacted by the program. I have seen students, like Zafar, come in as a freshman and now they’re team leaders helping students. It’s a ripple effect of goodness, and a cycle of leadership and growth that I know will only continue to get better.”