James Madison University

Psychology Peer Advising

By Erik Inglis
Posted:  March 10, 2016

Psychology Peer Advising consists of a dedicated group of students who have faced the rigors of a college workload and now wish to offer their guidance. Mikala Morrow, a senior who hopes to become a clinical mental health counselor, recalls her initial experience with their services. “I actually came into a Peer Advising position by coming into the office as an advisee.” Distraught over scheduling issues, she sought advice from the helpful crew in Miller Hall. “The advisors helped me so much and helped me calm down, I’ll never forget how much relief I felt after leaving the office.” Now she fills the role of Psychology Peer Advisor, eager to assist her fellow undergraduates. You might find Mikala, or other Peer Advisors, in their Miller 1106 office from 9-4 Monday through Thursday and from 9-12 on Friday. In addition to seeking out their Psychology faculty advisor, students can visit the Psychology Peer Advisors for class schedule concerns.  

Of course, Psychology Peer Advisors offer much more than just scheduling direction. Operating under the mantra SALTE (Service, Attitude, Leadership, Teamwork, and Excellence), advisors provide undergraduate psychology majors with a wide array of services including symposium presentations, walk-in office hours, program information, and service-learning experiences. Akyla Joseph, a psychology senior, provided examples of past symposium topics such as: preparing for grad school, how to get involved in the major, and career opportunities in psychology. And these symposia are deftly crafted. By the time Psychology Peer Advisors have graduated, they have polished their skills during 4 semesters of coursework (Psyc 301, 302, 401, 402). As part of this curriculum students will engage in study that will include some combination of leadership training, faculty research, website development, poster presentations, departmental service, and assisting new students at orientation. This commitment to student growth is one of the reasons that other peer advising groups are seeking tips from our Psychology department’s program.

Kimberly DuVall has been running the Psychology Peer Advising program since 2011.  With a willing smile and an unfettered enthusiasm for her work, DuVall offered her thoughts on the value of this student-based service. First and foremost, the program allows undergraduates the opportunity to hone their professional acumen. During this process, DuVall enjoys watching her students build confidence. Senior Cathy Kim, an aspiring educational psychologist who used to struggle with public speaking, can attest to this rise in confidence. “Public speaking has always been an area of struggle, but I have had the opportunity to speak at symposiums and present in class.” After these numerous public speaking events, Cathy has gained confidence in her abilities.

DuVall admits that the most challenging part of her position is ceding control to her students, but in the end this turns out to be one of the most rewarding parts too. Ultimately, it is the students who are responsible for preparing and organizing the material for the various projects and presentations they put on. Her students never fail to amaze her with their innovation and professionalism. The confidence and belief she has in her students is made obvious by the fact that she often brings her students along to take part in various academic conferences.

Following DuVall’s lead, Psychology Peer Advisors carry out their impressive commitment to this service all while juggling demanding schedules. For example, Michael Keiter, an ambitious senior, is a research assistant for three different professors, an Operations Director for Virginia21, and a double major in Biology and Psychology. Still he finds time for Psychology Peer Advising, and he offers only positive remarks about his experience. “My favorite part about Peer Advising is that we are like a family, looking after one another and making sure we are as stress free as possible.”

When I asked the Psychology Peer Advisors if they had any advice for undergraduates, a consistent response was to connect with professors. Michael offers that, “These professors aren’t here to see you fail, but are here to encourage you and make you a stronger individual.”  Further, Akyla suggests that you keep an open mind when scheduling classes. “Always try and be flexible. We all know how frustrating it can be when you don't get the perfect schedule you had planned. But if you keep yourself open to trying out new classes, it will not only make scheduling classes easier, but you may also discover a new interest in a class that you never would have picked originally.”

Perhaps what is most striking about Psychology Peer Advisors is their genuine interest in helping their fellow Dukes. As Mikala put it, “It always makes me smile when I hear advisees in our office say they feel so much better since coming to see us.” So if college or post-college plans have a student bit overwhelmed, the Psychology Peer Advising office can be a valuable resource.