Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach

March 24, 2019

Teaching to Learn/Learning to Teach

group of 20 students standing together smiling in front of a cabin marked "Pack Hall"
Honors Peer Educators attend an overnight retreat in the spring to Pack Forrest, a UW owned conference center just outside Mount Rainer National Park.

How many opportunities do you get in college to be a mentor to a group of bright-eyed, passionate freshmen while collaborating with a tight knit group of your peers? My advice: if you get one, take it!

In my first year at UW I was surprised by loving several things I never would have expected to do. In my Honors orientation class, Honors 100, I learned about the opportunities and responsibilities inherent in my Interdisciplinary Honors education and it was a sophomore who helped me most with my transition into college and the Honors Program. Once I learned that being a Peer Educator would fulfill one of my graduation requirements, I decided it would be a worthwhile experience. Little did I know that being a Peer Educator would be one of the most memorable experiences of my college career.

I was surprised to discover a love of teaching—the joy of watching a group of freshmen come out of their shells and express their passions. Add to that the community I built with my fellow educators during our weekly meetings and during the two-day Spring retreat.  I was awash in the inherent passion, drive, and kindness that is present within students of the Honors community.

The Peer Educator program was developed as a supportive and effective way to welcome incoming freshmen and 2nd year admits and equip them with information and resources to navigate their unique undergraduate journeys. Aley Mills Willis, Director of Academic Services for the UW Honors Program, explains: “We also understood that students value advice and ideas from their peers and recognized that our current students craved both leadership opportunities and ways to give back to their peers and to the Honors Program in meaningful ways.”  

Peer Educators began leading Honors 100 sections in Fall of 2011, and have been met with great success and appreciation. They are volunteer student leaders who welcome a group of incoming Honors students during fall quarter and teach them about the University along with the Honors Program. Peer Educators take a 2-credit training seminar that meets weekly during Spring quarter, in which they are trained in teaching and facilitation skills. Then, they oversee a section of 10-15 incoming Honors students during Fall quarter. Along with teaching their respective section, Peer Educators meet with each other weekly during Fall quarter to discuss successes and areas for growth in their teaching.

peer educator photo1
Peer Educators learn how to teach a variety of topics relevant to incoming Honors students. The Peer Educators pictured above are doing a time management activity that represents how things can feel chaotic if you are trying to do too much at once.

“The Peer Educators have become a community of leaders who hold tremendous empathy for the complexity of their peers’ early UW experience as well as a group who gain a deeper understanding of their own personal choices and pathways in college” expresses Mills Willis. One of the great things about the Peer Educator program is how it is self-sufficient in supplying new educators each year. Each year around 20 Peer Educators participate in the program, and each year is full of both returning and new students. It is common for students to sign on specifically because of their own Peer Educator.  

“I became a Peer Educator because mine was a huge resource to me when I was a freshman;” says Kiran Singh, a Peer Educator from 2018. “She didn’t teach me all the secrets of UW, but she was super honest about her experiences and it was comforting to hear someone speak to all of the different parts of UW life — essentially, I became a Peer Educator because I wanted to be that support for another incoming Honors student.”

Past Peer Educators have similarly viewed the opportunity to take this leadership position as worthwhile. For some, it provides a window into the world of teaching that they have only experienced as a student previously:

“Teaching, curriculum planning, student engagement…it’s a LOT of outside work! I thought of all the professors I looked up to and now I admire how much attention to detail and foresight they had after being a teacher for a brief period myself.”

Regan Gong, 2017 Peer Educator

And still for others, the Peer Educators represent an opportunity to build community:

“I made more connections [during the retreat] than I had all quarter. It was really nice to get to know my fellow Peer Educators in a way that isn’t exactly possible in a classroom setting…I knew that I admired each and everyone of my colleagues, but learning that they felt the same way really warmed my heart. ”

Taylor Halverson, 2017 Peer Educator

Whether you become a Peer Educator out of a desire to teach, give back to the Honors community, find a group of friends, or something in between, the opportunity to mentor incoming students is certainly unique and exciting. With student leadership positions like this one, incoming freshmen will continue to be inspired by their peers’ drive and compassion. And in a college setting, a friendly face can go a long way.

Griffin Dugan is a junior in the UW Interdisciplinary Honors Program pursuing a double degree in Psychology and Communication and is returning for his second year as an Honors Peer Educator in 2019.