Starting college is a huge transition for every student, and Siena is committed to making that experience as smooth as possible.

The one-credit Siena 101 course is offered to any incoming freshman who wants to take it. Sessions on test taking, study tips, time management and more are offered; one of the key components of the course’s success, however, are the personal connections made by peer mentors.

Fr. Bob Sandoz, O.F.M., coordinates the Siena 101 Peer Mentor Program through the College’s Academic Success Center. Any freshman can elect to take the course; some are recommended for it. 

“The key goals of the course are to integrate new students into the culture of Siena, and to orient them to the academic expectations of college-level work,” he said.

Siena filled 18 sections of the course this fall semester, each with 25 students. The courses were taught by an administrator or faculty member and supported by an upperclass peer mentor. The mentors attend each class and touch base with their students one-on-one each week to make sure everything is going well and to troubleshoot any issues that may arise.

The course was originally introduced for all incoming students in the Class of 2025, to address the special academic and social challenges presented by the COVID pandemic, such as having months of their high school classes online. Fr. Bob said the course was a great success, and when it was renewed for the 2022-23 academic year the College opted to offer it for a targeted group of freshmen rather than all of them. 

Jeffrey Briand ’23 said he became a peer mentor for two reasons. 

“Given that the transition to college is so exciting, yet unknown and nerve-wracking for so many freshmen, I wanted to be somebody who could help others relate to the ups and downs of their first semester and allow them to have somebody that they could go to who not only has the experience of being a freshman here at Siena but is also in tune with academic and campus life. These students are all amazing people in their own unique way!” said Briand. “I also wanted to give back to Siena, because so many upperclassmen helped me my first year to get through those hard experiences of being a freshman.”

Briand said he loved sharing his own experiences as a freshman with the Siena newcomers.

“Sometimes it's funny to look back on those days as a senior,” he said. “I shared with my mentees to not be afraid to reach out to people if they’re going through a rough patch academically, socially, or emotionally. Everyone is here to support you at Siena, to guide you through the challenges of college life, and to make you the best person that you can be. And also make sure that you support others too during their most challenging times here. That's the amazing thing about Siena--we truly all take care of each other.”

Daniel Cordero ’25 said he became a Siena 101 peer mentor to help prepare for a future career in teaching. 

“I also wanted to help the first-year students adjust to college life and be there for them for anything they needed,” he said. “I enjoy helping students achieve their goals and being someone they can talk to if they are struggling in anything.”

“There is always someone to talk to on campus if you need help. Keep a positive attitude throughout college and this can help you get through any challenges you encounter.”

Like Cordero, Grace Arcadipane ’24 is studying to become an educator and wanted to help first-year students acclimate to college life.

“Being a peer mentor is extremely rewarding but the best part for me personally has been the connections I have made with my mentees,” she said. “They feel comfortable reaching out when they need someone to talk to and that makes me feel good. Everyone deserves to have someone that will and can support them and help them navigate tough times.” 

Arcadipane encourages the students to prioritize themselves to make sure they’re OK with their own life choices. 

“College can be a difficult time and it can be easy to slip into a routine of just doing something to make others happy,” she said. “At the end of you day you need to make sure you’re content with your decisions. Always reach out if you’re struggling: everyone deserves to feel loved and supported! 

Fr. Bob noted that investing in a systematic approach to student mentorship is one of the key objectives in the new Strategic Plan under the pillar of “Experience.”

“We want all of our students to enter fully into life at Siena,” he said. “It is an important part of our desired identity as a Franciscan institution, and our peer mentors are an integral part of ensuring that we achieve this objective on behalf of each and every student.”