Study Abroad Peer Mentors: A Program Model Comparison

The Study Abroad Peer Mentor program was established in 2012  in the Center for International Programs (CIP) as a way to help returned study abroad students process re-entry shock and help prospective students learn about study abroad opportunities from returned students. In this sense, the Peer Mentor program was created to mitigate reverse culture shock, promote study abroad programs at Saint Mary’s, and recruit students to study abroad. The CIP has identified two program models that could meet these needs, which are creating an individualized internship or create a Peer Mentor club according to the guidelines and regulations created by the Student Involvement and Leadership (SIL) office. This review will examine the needs of program stakeholders, advantages and disadvantages of each model based on needs assessment of students and CIP staff, and make recommendations for carrying the Peer Mentors forward.

Peer Mentor Program Stakeholder Needs

Returned Study Abroad Students:

Peer Mentors are typically juniors of seniors who are starting to focus on job searching and building professional and transferable skills. To better understand these needs, a needs assessment was conducted to find out the professional skills and academic disciplines that the current Peer Mentors most wanted to develop. In general, Peer Mentors wanted to develop professional skills in event planning, public speaking and presenting, advising, and event promotion. They were interested in the academic areas of intercultural communication, language and culture, and identity and ethnicity. The best time of the year to do an internship for credit was Jan-term followed by summer. The best time of year to an internship that is not for credit was summer followed by Jan-term. Peer Mentors ranged from being able to commit between two and ten  hours per week to Peer Mentor activities, and every survey respondent but one indicated that he or she would like to participate in an internship during college. (Data collected from a needs assessment survey of Peer Mentors can be found here.)

CIP Staff

The lead staff member in charge of all aspects of study abroad at Saint Mary’s needs Peer Mentors to compliment and enhance the efforts of the CIP to recruit and advise prospective international students. Ideally, this will take place with minimal supervision time, meaning that Peer Mentors need to take initiative and lead themselves without significant prompting and intervention on the part of CIP staff. Overall, Peer Mentors should be able to recruit and advise prospective students, applicants, and accepted students on approved topics.

Prospective Study Abroad Students, Study Abroad Applicants, and Accepted Study Abroad Students 

Students in all stages of the study abroad need to be able to access information and answers to questions they have about the application and pre-departure processes. This takes a large amount of time and many basic questions could be answered by Peer Mentors. Pre-departure students often seek answers to questions that are very specific and can be best answered by returned students rather than staff (for example, “What did you pack?” “How did you find a place to live?” “What was Professor X like?” “How did you make friends?”)

Peer Mentor Program Potential Models and Evaluation

There are two potential program models that could be applied to the Peer Mentors that could meet the needs of Peer Mentors, CIP staff, and prospective/applicant/pre-departure study abroad students. This section will briefly discuss the advantages and disadvantages of creating a Peer Mentor internship and a Peer Mentor club, and then make recommendations on which model to move forward with.


An internship for with the CIP would most likely need to be created in partnership with a Peer Mentor’s academic advisor, or taught by a CIP staff member as a quarter-credit class. (Working with a professor or academic advisor could be a good way to strengthen relationships with departments or faculty that typically have little contact with the CIP.) Either option would require intensive preparation to establish learning outcomes, activities, and an assessment plan to make sure that learning outcomes have been reached.

The most important consideration for the internship model is timing. The best time to do an internship as indicated by both Peer Mentors and CIP staff through the needs assessment would be either during the summer or Jan-term. However, this means that the internship would be done at a time when students are either not on campus, or focusing most of their time on intensive Jan-term classes. This means that the primary needs of CIP staff and prospective/applicant/pre-departure study abroad students would not be met. Additionally, any funds spent on the internship would come from the CIP budget. This, combined with the amount of time it would take to prepare for and carry out an internship, makes the internship a less attractive model.


Clubs are overseen by the Student Involvement and Leadership (SIL) office at Saint Mary’s. This office can provide structure, guidance, and budgets to clubs, which takes some of the pressure for resources for Peer Mentors off of the CIP. Creating a Peer Mentor club will allow for Peer Mentors with different needs and strengths take on different projects that can contribute to the overall efforts of Peer Mentors to  recruit and advise. Peer Mentors will also be able to commit time depending on their schedules, projects, and time of year.

There are two considerations that should be taken into account with the club program model:

First, starting a club will require a significant amount of time. Students will need to write a constitution that describes the mission of the club, how the club is organized, the responsibilities of officers, and how the mission of the club fits into the overall mission of Saint Mary’s. The club’s staff advisor will need to provide significant guidance in this process. It should also be noted that in it’s first year, the club will need to request funding for each event separately, rather than receiving an annual allocated budget. This will require time spent on each funding request for both club officers and the staff advisor. (After the first year, the club will no longer need to do this.)

Second, SIL stipulates that all clubs must be open to the entire student body at Saint Mary’s, meaning that students who have not studied abroad must be allowed to join the club. While this might seem to go against the overall mission of the club (for returned students to advise and recruit other students), it is possible that allowing students who have not studied abroad will provide a unique method of recruiting students and connecting with students outside of the CIP. In any case, the club will need to be structured in such a way that all members can participate and benefit from membership.

Recommendations for Implementation

In comparing the advantages and disadvantages of each program model to the needs of stakeholders, it can be concluded that converting the Peer Mentors into a club would be more advantageous than creating a Peer Mentor internship. However, the CIP should continue to keep the internship option in mind in case needs or resources change.

Implementing a club should involve both Maria and multiple Peer Mentors who are in different stages of their college careers. Because Peer Mentors who are seniors might not be at Saint Mary’s long enough to implement ideas and activities, it is recommended that at least two Peer Mentors who are juniors be involved in the creation of the club’s constitution and structure, to ensure continuity of leadership and strategic efforts.

Club Organization Recommendations

Because the Study Abroad Peer Mentor Club must open it’s membership to all Saint Mary’s students, the following suggestions are meant to help organize the club to accommodate those members as well as returned study abroad students:

Club Title
Global Gaels

The mission and purpose of Global Gaels is to educate the Saint Mary’s community on long and short-term study abroad opportunities, raise awareness of the importance of intercultural skills that come from a study abroad experience, and mentor fellow students considering or applying to study abroad.

Club Officer Structure
President: Oversees general club direction and acts as primary liaison to CIP, supports and supervises All VPs. Manages the hiring of other officers in conjunction with staff advisor.
VP Events: Coordinates Global Gael participation in major CIP events, such as Study Abroad Fair, International Education Week, Welcome Back Dinner, and Global Open House.
VP Finance and Fundraising: Manages Global Gael budget, budget requests, and oversees fundraising events.
VP Scholarship: Oversees administration and management of Global Gael scholarship in conjunction with President and staff advisor
VP Residence Life: Acts as liaison to Office of Residence Life in order to coordinate dorm presentations and other residence life events
VP Communications: Manages social media, Global Gaels email, event promotion, and other communication

Officer Requirements
It is recommended that all club officers be returned study abroad or Jan-term abroad students. Members can be any student who is interested in the mission and activities of the club. Members could be part of committees. For example, the VP Events officer could assemble a committee of members to work on specific events. In order to keep officer hiring short, it is recommended that the President work with the staff advisor to hire officers rather than go through an election process.