CJY Peer Mentor: Claudya Skalski
Going to college is a lot more complicated than just going to class—What courses should you take? Do you really have to go to class? How are
you supposed to pay for everything? And how do you manage everything else going on in your life? At Governors State University, students who seek out the Center for Junior Year (CJY) might get just what they need from peer mentor Claudya Skalski.
“I had one girl who said, ‘This is hard. I don’t want to be here.’ And I told her, ‘I’m going to tell you straight up, I was in your position two years ago. There’s so much you can do if you hang in there.’ She needed to be told she had the capability to be here. Sometimes you just need to hear, ‘You’re doing a good job. Keep applying yourself.’ “
A rising senior, Skalski enrolled at GSU as a freshman and became a peer mentor after getting help from the CJY’s first director. “He brought me into his office and said, ‘What do you want to do? Let’s figure out your life,’ “ she recalled. A pre-med student with plans to become a surgeon or a medical examiner, she switched her major from biology to anthropology and began to thrive.
For Skalski, the student-to-student connection is the key, and she has learned to discern the kind of message that’s likely to resonate. “Students like interacting with other students who know how this school works, someone who can tell them, ‘Stop wasting your money and get it together,’ ” said Skalski.
The reason it works is that peer mentors build relationships with the students they help, she said. “It makes them feel like they belong because someone cares. The Center for Junior Year is people who care.”
Peer mentors work 15 hours a week and are paid, but Skalski said she doesn’t do it for the money. For her, the satisfaction comes from seeing a student follow her advice— and benefit from it. “They’re succeeding on the paths we set up for them. They have the resources and they’re taking advantage of them.”
As a result, those students feel more connected to GSU, she said. “You wouldn’t want to be left out in a new environment,” she said. “We’re the people who help.”
Center for Junior Year
An innovative center designed to break down barriers to academic success, the Center for Junior Year (CJY) at Governors State University supports students into their major, to their degree and beyond. “We work with other offices that help students, referring them to the resources they need to succeed,” said Professor David Rhea, Director of the CJY. Help comes from peer mentors — students trained to find answers to questions about careers, academics, finances, even personal challenges in life. Working one-on-one is an approach that makes the difference, Rhea said. “It’s about connectedness.”