CJY Peer Mentor: Jennifer Forbes
If anyone knows the value of speaking to a peer mentor, it’s Jennifer Forbes. By the time she decided it was time to get her college degree, she had raised three children, cared for her ailing mother-in-law, and done plenty of part-time work at a South Suburban school. She earned her Associate’s Degree at Prairie State College, then went on to enroll at Governors State University with a GSU Promise Scholarship, an award that covers all tuition and fees and even provides $600 toward books.
But a sudden loss in family income brought her to the brink of quitting—and to the door of GSU’s Center for Junior Year (CJY). “The CJY saved me. I walked in the door one day and told an advisor, ‘I can’t do this. We lost half our household income overnight,’ ” Forbes said. But Lakia (Colquitt) pushed back. “She told me, ‘You can’t quit. I said, ‘Ok, then you make it work for me.’”
Forbes not only got the help she needed to continue her studies, she also decided to become a peer mentor on Colquitt's advise. “If I can save one student from quitting, I’ve met my goal,” she said. “In spring semester 2019, I saved two.”
Students often walk into the CJY for help with a single academic problem, then wind up talking about all the other challenges they’re facing. “A lot of students at GSU are adults. We have kids, we have car payments, we have jobs. And we’re going to school, often full-time,” Forbes said. “How do you do all that? You need help.”
One of her jobs as a peer mentor is traveling to local community colleges to talk to students about transferring to GSU. While an academic advisor would talk about which courses are necessary for completing a degree, Forbes gets to use a different approach. “We ask, ‘What do you want to do with that degree?’ We help students end up where they need to be to meet their career goal, even if it means changing majors and taking a different path,” she said.
With plenty of training, Forbes, an English major, has become comfortable as a problem solver, directing students to the right resources and connecting them with the right people — even walking them across campus. “This is a big place,” she said. “And some places are just hard to go by yourself when you’re asking for help, like the food pantry.
“It’s nice to have someone to go with you the first time so you’re not alone.”
For Forbes, working 15 hours a week as a peer mentor has given her the chance to learn more about what GSU has to offer and how it works. And she has felt good being part of it. “The CJY got me connected,” she said. “I feel like I’m part of this campus.”
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.”