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Entry into the National University of Singapore (NUS) as a freshman can be a bewildering experience. It’s an overload, both sensory and informational. There are new people to meet, new names to remember, new places to see, new acronyms to memorise (NUS, USP, IVLE, CORS, DDP??)…

Unlike pre-university institutions like polytechnics or junior colleges, academic requirements in NUS are not standardised across different majors, let alone different faculties or schools. Stepping into the NUS academic system is a little like stepping into a rainforest. There is an astonishing diversity of options available here: whether you are talking about individual degree programmes, joint degree programmes, exchange opportunities, overseas colleges, or even the subject combinations offered. Seen from afar, the NUS academic system can be a very exciting yet confusing landscape to be quickly mired and lost in.

After the initial orientation, the NUS freshman is confronted with the simple fact he is also here to obtain a degree: attend modules, write papers, undertake research, and hopefully graduate at the end of three or four years.

The big question then is: What next?

This is when the USP freshmen ought to know about the USP Mentorship Programme (UMP), a student-led academic initiative designed to initiate freshmen into the various academic requirements, programmes and initiatives available to them.

Through the UMP, every first-year USP student is assigned a senior USP student-mentor of the same home faculty, i.e. a USP freshman in the Faculty of Science will be assigned a UMP mentor who is also from the Faculty of Science. If the university academic programme (in NUS and USP) is a complex jungle, a UMP mentor is the freshman’s native guide into that jungle. Through a systematic series of mentoring sessions, mentors provide freshmen with accurate advice on the USP curriculum, and also faculty-specific issues. As another channel by which freshmen meet new members of the USP community, the UMP also seeks to better integrate USP first-years into the USP community.

What Is It All About?

Originally an informal project started by a group of USP seniors for their juniors, the UMP has developed over the years into a formalised student-led programme in USP with a coherent syllabus and structure. USP seniors who volunteer their time and energy to be mentors are provided with training, to equip them with the requisite skills of a peer mentor. These training sessions ensure that the peer mentor is conversant not only with the academic requirements of his or her faculty, but those of the USP.

The UMP is facilitated by a team of student Faculty Coordinators, who help to centralise and disseminate any changes or initiatives to academic requirements both in USP, and also in the wider NUS. These Coordinators, who are mentors themselves, further help to monitor the progress and status of all USP freshmen assigned to their charge. They will also consult with staff advisors at USP and USP’s partner faculties when unclear about anything.

Peer Mentoring: A Personal Perspective


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Besides being the Programme Coordinator for UMP, Ruizhi (left) is actively involved in the USP community as a USP Ambassador.

 

 

 

 

If you’re a freshman, be tenacious. My advice? Be irritating. Be outspoken. Be hungry – and dive into the potentialities and possibilities USP, and NUS can offer.

 

I signed up to be a UMP mentor in my second year in university, having experienced first-hand the importance of having an attentive and conscientious senior at hand to guide me along as I started my university life. My mentor helped me to make better sense of convoluted module requirements in my major, and the intricate procedures of bidding online for academic modules.

Through UMP, I met many other members of the USP community. This ranged from other freshmen in the same major as me, to (what seemed then) like my immeasurably “ancient” Year 4 senior from History, someone who had once walked a similar pathway of choices I was treading. New worlds of possibilities and opportunities opened up because of my senior’s advice and experiences. I wanted to be that kind of senior to my juniors – one who could provide useful advice and even a listening ear to a confused USP freshman.

When I became a peer mentor, I was also appointed as a Faculty Coordinator. It was very satisfying on a personal level to be able to provide help for a whole new batch of incoming freshmen. In a way, it allowed me to “pay it forward”, contributing back to the USP community by sharing my personal experience, whilst also schooling me (by occupational necessity) in the academic requirements of USP, and my home faculty, the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences (FASS).

I have gained much by being a mentor and a Coordinator under the UMP. It provided me with deeper personal insights into the different experiences, concerns and aspirations of my juniors and peers in the USP. I was in a slightly better position to make tangible differences to the lives of people in my community, armed with a clearer understanding of what was needed, and what was lacking.

Full Circles and Vast Horizons

Like all freshmen entering the USP, I first came into contact with the UMP in my first year. Now at the tail end of the comet that is university life, in my final year at USP, I cannot help but reflect on how things have come nearly full circle (perhaps spiral is the better image). Only this time, I’m the senior, offering directions and possibilities.

USP is a multidisciplinary programme which offers its students an eclectic choice of horizons: to contemplate, challenge and construct. Opportunities are galore here, if you only knew where to search, or who to ask, or what to write.

If you’re a freshman, be tenacious. My advice? Be irritating. Be outspoken. Be hungry – and dive into the potentialities and possibilities USP, and NUS can offer.

And if you need help with exploring this vast ecosystem, the UMP and its peer mentors are there to help.