Forging Friendships with the Inclusive Forestry Peer Mentor Team

By Gabrielle Bonifacio, Communications Co-ordinator

In the Forestry Science Centre at UBC, students from the Inclusive Forestry Peer Mentor Program (IFPMP) are planting the seeds of community and easing what can sometimes be a thorny transition for new students.

Joris Jun, Program Coordinator – Asia Forest Research Centre Faculty of Forestry

The IFPMP was one of last year’s recipients of the Equity Enhancement Fund (EEF), which provides financial support for new programs fostering diversity, equity, community engagement and inclusion. Composed of 18 senior Forestry students, the IFPMP provides junior students from Forestry’s 3+2 program with a mentor to turn to for support with both academic and non-academic concerns. Forestry’s 3+2 program allows students to complete their degree at UBC after two to three years of study at a partner Forestry university in China. Joris Jun, the coordinator who spearheaded the project, was a former 3+2 student herself before she went on to complete her master’s degree and secured a position as a full time staff member at UBC.

“I was really struggling when I first came here,” Jun says, recounting the challenges from her own student experience. “Although we came here as a group, we [didn’t] really know how to get involved in Canadian culture.”

While each student is assigned an ESP (Enrollment Services Advisor), the resources provided are mostly limited, Jun explains, to matters regarding admissions, not “life.” The IFPMP was built to bridge this disconnect and provide a roadmap to help students navigate their new environment.

“For now, we focus on part academic support, part life, mental support,” Jun explains. While she sets up a minimum of monthly meetings between the students and their mentors, they’re also welcome to have more if needed. A typical schedule includes a study session followed by more leisurely outdoor activities.

“We also arrange a lot of culture events to get all of the forestry students together,” Jun says, citing the Mid-Autumn Festival and Chinese New Year as particularly note-worthy gatherings that encourage the students to socialize and get involved.

To ensure the program best served the students, Jun conducted surveys that illustrated its benefits. The senior volunteers, who Jun cites as being concerned about finding employment post-graduation, gain valuable ‘work’ experience leading small groups and planning events. Meanwhile, the juniors are able to sort through processes like course selection while gaining a sense of belonging.

“Most of them have [a] really positive reply to the peer mentor team,” Jun says, “Because they do have a lot of questions about the life here, about the study here.”

Beyond the student level, the program also provides a window for staff to get informed about the state of their students without having to check in with all 80 of them individually.

“It’s more efficient,” Jun points out. “I just need to ask the peer mentor team how it’s going and they give me feedback.”

After the program’s success with the 3+2 students, Jun says the next step is transforming it into a faculty-wide initiative, ensuring that all incoming Forestry students are supported and well-equipped to overcome the inevitable challenges of university life.