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School of Arts and Sciences

BLAST Mentors Prepare First-Year Scholars for the Year Ahead

Friday, September 26, 2014

Tufts Undergraduates Provide Critical Role in 6-Week Summer Program

BLAST Mentors

By Andrew Garsetti

As the second summer session at Tufts culminated in August, so too did The Bridge to Liberal Arts Success at Tufts (BLAST) program. For the six weeks prior, the program's peer mentors—Tufts undergraduate students Xiomara Garcia, Alexia Sanchez, Jared Smith, and Patrick Williams—were busy preparing participants for success in their first year of college.

Peer mentor Xiomara Garcia, center, celebrates the end of the BLAST program with participants Yesenia Vilaneva-Rodriguez and Jonathan Moore at the closing banquet. (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)

BLAST began last year as a summer program for incoming freshmen that were either the first students from their high school accepted to Tufts, or the first in their families to attend a four-year university. The project, helmed by Dean Robert Mack, is designed to help these students make an easier transition to Tufts and get acquainted with the collegiate culture. BLAST scholars spend the summer taking two courses on campus (for which they receive credit), along with venturing out on a number of sponsored excursions to local areas of interest.

Dean Mack points to the critical advice the mentors provide in sharing their college struggles with the incoming students. "BLAST students, like many college students, are under extreme pressure from their families, communities, and even themselves to 'succeed', without tangible examples of what that looks like in college. Many of the mentors were able to share personal experiences as BLAST Scholars with incoming students about the realities inherent in their paths to 'success', complete with all its stumbles."

Xiomara Garcia (A16), who is interested in pursuing a biology major at Tufts in preparation for medical school, mentioned that as mentors, "We were there just so they know that they have the support and that they have the ability to come talk to us." The four mentors, each of whom participated in the BLAST program themselves last year, would frequently hold resource hours in the library, during which they could act as tutors and writing fellows for the BLAST scholars or serve as personal advisors.

BLAST mentors gather with BLAST staff at the banquet for the 2013 BLAST and BEST summer scholars programs in the Coolidge Room in Ballou Hall this August. Top, from left: BLAST Director Robert Mack; Mentors Jared Smith and Patrick Williams. Bottom, from left: Mentors Alexia Sanchez and Xiomara Garcia; BLAST staff members Kimberly Doan, Gabrielle Hernandez (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)

Alexia Sanchez (A16) participated as a math teaching assistant during the summer session. She said, "My role was more to be like a model student than anything." "Alexia is often very cognizant of the shyer, quieter students in the group because of her experience last year coming into BLAST as somewhat of an introvert," says Mack. "Her insight as such has really allowed some of our more timid students to find ways to feel heard with the whole group." Each of the four mentors commented on how impressionable the scholars were, and how thoroughly they would observe all of their mentors' actions, making the mentors feel especially responsible for guiding the students carefully.

For Jared Smith (A16), the most rewarding aspect was discovering ways to engage participants. "I had a lot of shy people in my group, and I encouraged them to be the leaders of the group," he noted. "Then at the end [of the program], one of those kids came up and spoke in front of all eighty people there and talked about how much they appreciated that."

Patrick Williams (A16), who studies economics and entrepreneurial leadership, noted that one of the most complicated aspects of BLAST was the group dynamics. "That role of friend-mentor can get very confusing," he said. "You don't really want to cross the line—you still want to have authority, but you also want to be approachable."

Mentor Alexia Sanchez, left, congratulates BLAST participant Tenzin Chokki (Matthew Modoono for Tufts University)

All four felt that their prior participation with BLAST was essential to their success as mentors this year. "I think being a part of BLAST let me and the other mentors see BLAST in a different light than others would," Smith said. "I struggled a lot more than I expected and I never really had any person I could ask for help…but being a mentor this year, I was able to do that after doing my own experience."

The end-of-summer banquet on August 9th brought a sense of closure to the program, though the BLAST bond will last into the school year. "At this point, September means we're equals," says Smith, who adds that the idea of mentoring is lasting. "They can still come to us no matter what."