By Bilal Ali, Student, The City College of New York
I applied for Kingsborough Community College’s Opening Doors Peer Mentoring program in my freshman year. It was an opportunity for me to meet new people and learn leadership and professional skills. Unfortunately, I didn’t get chosen because there were already enough people enrolled for the position. I was upset but did not let that one setback bring me down. I remained focused on my classes and managed to perform well.
In my sophomore year, I got an offer to apply for the Student Ambassador program. I applied for the program and got accepted. It was an opportunity I could not pass up because I was getting frustrated with job rejections and feeling isolated on campus. Again, I took it as an opportunity to gain professional experience and try to add it to my resume. Programs like these are helpful for people like me who have mostly remained shy and mostly keep their feelings to themselves. It provides spaces to get out of our shell and comfort zones and unleash our potential.
We had to attend weekly meetings for training to become a Student Ambassador. One of the requirements was to go on a three-day retreat to Honor’s Haven in Upstate New York. It felt like I had a 50-50 chance I would endure. I had never gone to a retreat or any other trip with my peers. Plus, coming from a different country, I had never hung out like that with an American peer group. Nevertheless, I decided to embark on this journey to explore the opportunities that were available to me.
The retreat was a good learning experience. All of our groups had to do presentations on stage based on the books we received at the start of our training. I was a narrator in our group presentation, delivering jokes at the same time as informing the audience. During my time at the retreat, despite how scared I was feeling inside and despite being in a situation where I had never been before, I realized I was being appreciated by my peers. I got an opportunity to apply again for the Peer Mentoring program at the retreat. Once again, I applied, and I was accepted this time.
I became a Peer Mentor in Fall 2018, which was my last semester at Kingsborough. It was an excellent learning experience. I got to assist in a Student Development-10 classroom with George Hill, who coordinates the Opening Doors Peer Mentors. I tried to be there for students by answering their questions, taking part in classroom activities, informing them of the different facilities available on-campus, both in class and during our one-on-one meetings. I helped set up the Remind app to notify students of their due assignments and events happening on-campus.
There were moments where I stumbled. Sometimes I would be late to my one-on-one meetings with students. One time I sent a message to all students on Remind saying an assignment was due the next day, but it was not due for two weeks. That sent every student into panic mode, as it was also a group project. One positive note that came out of that fiasco was they did not have to worry about their projects for the next two weeks! George and I stored them in the office dedicated to Peer Mentors.
In terms of connecting with the students, I think I did a decent job. Students arrived during my office hours to connect with me and learn about resources on campus. One student, who was also of Pakistani origin, connected with me the most. I encouraged him and the rest of the students to apply for the Student Ambassador program. He took my advice and not only went on to become a well-known Student Ambassador but became President of the Campus Activity Board at Kingsborough, as well as a member of the Student Government. He and I are friends to this day, and he still thanks me for opening the doors of opportunities for him.
Peer Mentoring at Kingsborough Community College provided me the opportunity to continue in the same field at Guttman Community College. I became a First-Year- Experience Peer Mentor. The responsibilities for me at Guttman are mostly the same as those at Kingsborough. The only differences are there are more Peer Mentors and I am able to take more of a leadership role courtesy of my prior experiences. I got to co-host events on campus with other Peer Mentors like “De-Stress Fest,” where students can play games and watch a movie.
Being a Peer Mentor has made me learn how to connect and guide freshmen and other college students through experience and communication. I encourage people to enroll in on-campus activities at their respective colleges to become great leaders. I would like to encourage people not to let rejections bring you down. There is a dialogue in a movie called The Pursuit of Happyness which I like to share, “He who says he can and he who says he can’t are both usually right.” It is a Confucius quote, according to Google. The point is, there is a lesson to learn when we get rejected from a job which we want or a team which we want to join. We can better prepare or train ourselves or try something different. We just have to be resilient so we can chase our dreams.
Bilal Ali is a Senior at The City College of New York majoring in History. He graduated from Kingsborough Community College with an Associates in Liberal Arts. Bilal is currently a First-Year Experience Peer Mentor and Transfer Ambassador at Guttman Community College.