ERG Peer Mentoring

Note: A handbook with a half-day training session conducted at the end of Spring 2016 was put together for ERG peer mentors and can be found here.


Goal: A program to expand ERG's peer mentor system for newbies by including intentional and accountable mentorship particularly for fellowship applications and feeling included at ERG.

Background motivation: To give new incoming ERG students a head start on funding by walking them through the fellowship application process BEFORE they get bogged down by their first semester in grad school at Cal. This idea was enthusiastically suggested by the Newbies 2015 cohort during ER201, and both Kay and Duncan were excited about it, as well as the ERG student diversity committee. Our hope is that this program would (1) help prospective students to feel more financially confident about choosing ERG and (2) to help new newbies feel more confident about staying at ERG. The ERG peer mentoring program is intended to be part of a suite initiatives to foster diversity and inclusion at ERG.

Is this program optional?
Yes, this program is optional for new ERG student admits as well as current ERG students. However, once an ERG student volunteers to be a mentor, then a point person will regularly follow up with the mentors, at least during the summer.

What do you mean by “accountable mentorship”?
Every student who volunteers as an ERG peer mentor should understand that there is a mentor curriculum (i.e. a handbook). A “point person” for the program is selected by Kay and the ERG diversity student committee and works directly with Kay. The point person then checks in regularly (Summer bi-monthly, then monthly in the first academic year) with mentors and mentees to make sure that they are moving along in the curriculum at the pace of the mentee. (Again, this program is optional for the mentee.) If the mentor goes MIA (which happens), then the point person attempts to reconnect the mentor with the mentee. If that doesn’t work out, then the point person will take over the curriculum with the mentee or immediately find a new mentor who will.

How will ER201 be affected by this?
The ER201 curriculum will not change due to this mentoring program. As already happens every year, the incoming students will be at different phases of fellowship funding and the GSI of ER201 will need to accommodate for that. The same goes for readings, i.e. as usual some may have read the books already.

How will mentors and mentees be paired?
Before February, the point person will ask ERG students to sign up to volunteer as a peer mentor. This announcement will include expectations of mentors (i.e. pre- and post-April 15 objectives and a mentor training session). As soon Kay receives a final accepted student list in February, Kay will pair ERG students with prospective students with consideration to the volunteer sign up. The point person will then contact each new incoming student, informing them of the mentoring program and the option of following the curriculum over the summer.

Mentor objectives

ERG peer mentors go over this checklist for suggestions on areas and activities to cover with your mentee in general. Remember to go at the pace of your mentee.

1.     Pre-April 15: Retain awesomeness
a.     As soon as you are assigned to a prospective student, contact them introducing yourself and let them know you are available to answer any of their questions, etc.
b.     Set up a face-to-face meeting either during a campus visit or on Skype
c.     Let them know that you and the rest of the ERG community can help them with fellowship applications once they decide to join ERG
d.     Continue regular communication (e.g. twice a month until April 15)
e.     Be excited about ERG but also realistic about expectations
f.      Do not add them to the Current ERG Student Facebook Group until after they accept ERG’s proposal
— After April 15 —
2.     Expectations: Clarify expectations of your role
a.     The ERG community is ready to help and the peer mentor is just one particular person of many people at ERG that can help the mentee
b.     The mentor will initiate communication and check in regularly, but the mentee sets the pace of the relationship
c.     You are not expected to “fix” all your mentee’s problems. Mainly be a listening ear, share your personal experiences, and refer them to helpful people and resources.
d.     If the mentee has any questions about the ERG peer mentor program, they should contact Kay and/or the point person (Chris)
3.     Co-mentors: If you are a co-mentor, consider how to share objectives between your co-mentor and you so that your mentee is neither over- nor under-whelmed by your double duty or mutual absence.
4.     Communication: How often do they want to stay in touch with you?
a.     In general, be a “friend”/friendly to your mentor (whole time at ERG)
b.     Maintain regular communication (e.g. check in once a month for the first academic year, if they so desire)
c.     Meet face-to-face 1-2 times a semester during first academic year (e.g. coffee/meal at the beginning and end of the semester, if it doesn’t stress them out)
d.     Re-evaluate: Things may change over the year, so check in and see if your communication regularity is helpful, too little, or overbearing
5.     Courses: Do they want help with registering for courses?
a.     SUMMER: Summer before first semester, assist with setting up classes
                                           i.         Share the ERG student spreadsheet about classes
                                          ii.         Make sure they know how to find courses
                                         iii.         How to enroll via CalCentral:
                                        iv.         Consider what prerequisites they may need to take (e.g. calculus, linear algebra, statistics)
b.     Make sure they are aware of the ERG “Masters Course of Study Form” and to submit it to Kay
c.     See if they have any questions about ERG requirements and about graduating on time (see ERG website)
6.     Connecting: Help them to feel their ERGie oats
a.     Connect them to other ERGies who may share their interests or be valuable assets
b.     Invite them to the Current ERG Students Facebook group (after April 15)
c.     Refer them to the ERG Survival Guide and see if they have any questions
d.     Encourage them to serve the ERG community by joining a committee
e.     SUMMER: Remind them of important upcoming events in the Fall
                                           i.         Orientation (by Kay)
                                          ii.         Camping trip (by 2nd years)
                                         iii.         City outing (by 2nd years)
7.     Finances: Are they concerned about finances during grad school?
a.     You do not need to fix their financial problems! Try to be a listening ear, share your personal experiences, and connect them to helpful people and resources when you can.
b.     Have they thought through various aspects of finances as a grad student at Cal? (see checklist A)
c.     Do they have a housing plan yet? (see checklist A)
d.     Do they have time and bandwidth to start fellowship applications BEFORE they arrive at ERG? (see checklist B)
8.     Reading: Do they want summer reading suggestions?
a.     Let your newbie know that in ER201 students will read environmental classics and that usually it is difficult for first years to complete the readings.
b.     Below is a list of readings which have been covered in ER201 in the past, but there is no guarantee that these readings will be covered in the class. At times, the faculty do not decide the reading list until the class actually starts. In any case, this is a “must read” list for any ERGie.
c.     Readings (stars indicate number of years assigned): Silent Spring**; Guns, Germs and Steel**; The Botany of Desire**; Dumping in Dixie*; The Logic of Collective Action*
d.     Also, consider papers, articles, documentaries, movies, blogs, Khan Academy, etc. for those who don’t have time to read entire books
9.     Encourage wellness: Watch for signs of depression or distress
a.     It is not your job to “fix” anyone’s mental or emotional problems, but as one on the frontlines, it’s helpful to look out for any signs of distress and for you to refer them to help
b.     See below for the “signs” and what to do. Go to and to Kay for more information
c.     All students with or without insurance get 8 free counselling sessions at Tang
d.     Also, they have free membership at the RSF gym!

A. Finances checklist

ERG peer mentors go over this checklist for suggestions on areas and activities to cover with your mentee about finances. Remember to go at the pace of your mentee.

      You do not need to fix their financial problems! Try to be a listening ear, share your personal experiences, and connect them to helpful people and resources when you can.
      Finances: New ERG students more aware about of finances and being a grad student in the Bay Area
      Housing: New ERG students more aware of housing options before they arrive

1.     Assess the budget concerns of the newbie
a.     Housing options: rent, locations, search options, etc.
b.     Help them think about their monthly financial needs in the Bay Area
c.     Any special needs for international students (underestimated on website)
                                           i.         Cost of living may be much higher than what they assume
                                          ii.         Consider: Rent, food, internet, mobile, cable, health insurance, etc.
d.     Any special needs for students with children (underestimated on website)
2.     Assess newbie’s current funding plan and understanding of funding at ERG
a.     If they have multiple years of funding and do not feel the need to apply for more funding currently, then there is no need to move further with this
b.     However, you can let them know about the online resources below
3.     Connect the newbie with online resources
a.     ERG website
b.     Grad Div website
c.     Berkeley International site
d.     Graduate Diversity site
e.     Send them the spreadsheet of ERG funding from Box (they may not have access to Box yet)
4.     Discuss various funding options, including:
a.     Various fellowships, e.g. NSF, EPA, Ford, etc.
b.     GSI and GSR opportunities
c.     Work-study and FAFSA
d.     Part-time work on and off-campus
e.     Loans
5.     Consider helping the newbie create SMART goals for an overall funding plan
a.     SMART = Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, time-bound
b.     For example:
                                           i.         By end of June:
1.     Submit FAFSA application
2.     Select fellowships to apply to
3.     Contact Kay about GSI or GSR opportunities
4.     Check out CraigsList for housing options ideas
                                          ii.         By end of July:
1.     Finish outline of fellowship application essay
2.     Follow up with Kay about GSI or GSR opportunities
3.     Set up interviews and submit applications for housing options
6.     Follow up on any housing and budget concerns
a.     Note: Remember that there has been an incredible increase in rents in the Bay Area since you’ve been a newbie, so please keep your expectations realistic.
b.     Resources to use:
                                           i.         ERG student email group
                                          ii.         Current ERG Students Facebook group
                                         iii.         Berkeley housing list
                                        iv.         Berkeley Co-ops
                                         v.         See also ERG Survival Guide
c.     Check in again by mid-July about any financial/housing concerns
d.    Check in the first week of August: Is their housing secured yet?
                                           i.         Consider short-term housing options: hostels, residents clubs, etc. (have a list ready!)
e.     Check in at end of August to see if they’re OK

B. Fellowship checklist

ERG peer mentors go over this checklist for suggestions on areas and activities to cover with your mentee about fellowship applications. Remember to go at the pace of your mentee. If they do not have time for this, they are in no way obligated to do this; however, it was strongly suggested by Newbies 2015 to have this type of mentoring available during the summer.

Suggested objective: Before the Fall semester begins, new ERG students complete a first draft of their fellowship proposal (e.g. SOP and research essays).

1.     Assess if newbie should apply to a fellowship this year
a.     NSF’s new rules: Grads students now may only apply to NSF once. Remember that they will be grad students when they submit their NSF proposals this coming Fall. If they applied already (last Fall), it should not count unless they were in grad school last Fall. If they are going to apply for NSF GRFP, discuss if it will be more strategic for them to apply this year or next year. “Terminal” Master’s students should apply their first year. Other students should probably prepare an application their first year and before submitting have helpers assess if it would be better to apply later.
b.     If they already have multiple years of funding, should they apply for other research project funding?
c.     If they feel do not feel the need to apply for funding currently and/or they do not have time during the summer to apply, then there is no need to continue this checklist.
d.     However, you can let them know about the online resources available.
2.     Select fellowship: Help the newbie select a fellowship to apply to, e.g. NSF, Ford, etc.
3.     Instructions: Have them go through the online instructions for the application and come back to you with any questions
4.     Registration: For fellowships like the NSF, have them start the online login registration process
5.     Resume/CV: Have them send you a copy of their resume so you are familiar with their background and so they have an updated summary of their accomplishments
6.     Recommenders: Discuss their potential list of people who could write their letters of recommendation
7.     Example: From the ERG Box, send them an example or two of successful essays closely related to their topic. There are also excellent examples from Grad Div.
8.     Topic: Help the newbie to select a topic, through brainstorming, etc.
9.     Outline:
a.     Have them send you an outline of their application essay(s)
                                           i.         If there are multiple essays, they can decide to do one or all of the essays
b.     Return the outline with comments
c.     Note: Feel free to ask help from other ERGies
10.  First draft:
a.     Have them send you a first draft of their essay(s)
b.     Return the essay(s) with edits and comments
c.     Note: Feel free to ask help from other ERGies
11.  Let them know that this process will continue in ER201.
a.     If they are not going to take ER201(make sure Kay knows), let them know that you will help them (with the support of the rest of the ERG community) to complete the application during the Fall semester. You can also connect them to the ER201 GSI to see if they can follow up with your mentee.

Some resources

Video on Active Listening

Video on Depression Awareness

Video on Racism
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