Not having access to a formal peer mentoring program didn’t hold back Syracuse native Breana Nieves Vergara as she made her way through Ithaca College as a sociology major. Her academic program was small enough that Nieves Vergara never struggled to find peer mentors among her fellow students.
But Nieves Vergara also knows and appreciates the many benefits associated with upper-class college students mentoring their younger peers, from sharing academic resources and providing feedback on classes and professors to understanding how to read a syllabus and inquire about summer internships.
Especially when it comes to students from low-income households who choose to attend Syracuse University, being connected to a network of mentors who understand how to successfully navigate these topics can be incredibly valuable.
Thankfully, in her role as the coordinator of mentoring programs in Multicultural Affairs, Nieves Vergara combines her love of mentoring with her drive to make higher education accessible for all while connecting students to the proper resources and support systems once they arrive on campus.
“My passion for peer mentorship comes from the fact that I wish I had a peer mentorship program when I was in college,” says Nieves Vergara. “This job is my passion project, finding ways to create that community that I didn’t have. This position melds together all of my interests and is the perfect fit.”
Nieves Vergara pours this passion into helping the students she works with to discover community and feel comfortable exploring their own identities during their time on campus.
She says she feels blessed to be able to coordinate two peer-to-peer mentoring programs through her role: Dimensions, where first-year female students of color are matched up with an upper-class female student of color, and fullCIRCLE, where first-year students of color are paired with an upper-class student of color, and the upper-class mentor is matched up with an Alumni, Employer, Faculty or Staff (AEFS) mentor.
“I get a lot of energy working with the students and they have great ideas. They’re all super energized and positive. Being able to be that mentor that I think I would have wanted when I was an undergraduate student, that’s also really fulfilling. This job is about providing our students with resources, but also bridging the gap and creating community for our students,” says Nieves Vergara.
It all stems from Nieves Vergara’s experiences as a student participant with On Point for College, a local nonprofit that strives to close the gap for lower-income students seeking to attend college. Nieves Vergara found the program to be incredibly beneficial, so much so that after she graduated, she embarked on a fellowship with On Point for College.
During her year-long stint as Programming Fellow, Nieves Vergara concentrated on providing students with peer mentorship opportunities through interactive, impactful and hands-on programming that helped students develop and grow as a person and in the classroom.
Because of her efforts to create academic, professional development, cultural and social connections between mentors and mentees, Nieves Vergara says she’s also gained a newfound appreciation for the role the University plays in giving back to the local Syracuse community, something she didn’t always realize growing up in the city.
“Being involved in Syracuse University and working in this role has shown me how much the SU community is invested in the local Syracuse community,” she says. “Since I coordinate those mentoring programs, being able to provide community service opportunities for my students in a way that’s meaningful for both the students and the Syracuse community has been really rewarding.”
Her impact on campus extends beyond cultivating community through peer-to-peer mentoring opportunities. Nieves Vergara also supports the Kessler Presidential Scholars program and leads the University’s Latinx Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, which begin with an Opening Ceremony on Sept. 15.
New for this year’s monthlong celebration are weekly Café con Leche—translated as “coffee with milk”—discussions on important cultural topics like What is Latinx? (Sept. 23), Celebrating the First-Generation College Student Experience (Sept. 28) and Queer and Latinx (Oct. 4).
The culminating program is the Potash Keynote, from 7 to 9 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 13, featuring Paola Ramos, a Cuban American author, Emmy Award-winning journalist and Latinx advocate who also worked as deputy director of Hispanic media for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign and served on President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012.
“I’m super excited for the programming we have planned during Latinx Hispanic Heritage Month. We have such an amazing resource on campus in La Casita [Cultural Center in the College of Arts and Sciences] that bridges the gap between SU and the local community, and there’s so much we want to highlight about our Latinx community. This is going to be a great time for our campus community and the City of Syracuse,” says Nieves Vergara.
This article originally appeared on Syracuse University's News Blog on September 12, 2022. Read the original article here.