PAL program coming to Penn State Brandywine next spring

MEDIA, Pa. — Starting in spring 2019, first-year students at Penn State Brandywine will have the opportunity to kick off their college careers with a campus PAL beside them.

Penn State Brandywine is slated to launch its all-new PAL program. PAL, which stands for Peer Assistant and Leader, will be a unique student-to-student mentorship program providing new students with a peer assistant to ease the transition from high school to college.

The program is the brainchild of Brandywine’s Jennifer Toadvine, clinical counselor, and Joshua Marquit, assistant teaching professor of psychology.

“As a therapist, I see incoming students who struggle with their sense of belonging when they transition into college,” said Toadvine. “On the other hand, we also see students on campus who are amazing role models, but have limited access to leadership opportunities. PAL was really born out of the question, ‘How do we serve both of those communities?’”

Brandywine’s PAL program will equip returning students with the ability to meet the needs of incoming freshmen through community building, general support and assistance navigating campus resources.

“Across the United States, we’re seeing reports of social anxiety issues on campus, including depression and alienation,” said Marquit. “But those reports also indicate that peer mentoring programs have been successful in alleviating those issues.”

Before becoming members of PAL, student mentors will take a 300-level course called “Development of the Peer Assistant Leader.” The course will train them in basic principles of counseling, including soft skills, responding to a crisis, and communication methods. Student leaders also will have opportunities to connect with faculty and staff through secondary projects that enhance the campus community.

According to Toadvine, the PAL program is a chance not only to provide new students with assistance, but to better the campus community by equipping its members to help each other.

“Therapy comes down to connection,” she said, “and that’s something every person on campus has the ability to offer. Instead of monopolizing that and making a counselor the sole source of help on campus, we want to equip students to reach each other.”

Toadvine and Marquit plan to recruit PAL mentors from a diverse array of academic backgrounds and life experiences. Under the supervision of faculty and staff members, each PAL mentor will be responsible for helping between three and five incoming students over a one-year period.

“A team comprised of people from very different academic backgrounds means dozens of perspectives,” said Toadvine. “We want students from all majors and walks of life to understand that they belong here.”

Most importantly, the program will provide both new students and peer mentors with a chance to learn about themselves and become more aware of others — an opportunity with long-term benefits.

“This really transcends a resume moment,” Marquit said. “This is building for their own futures — learning how to maintain good relationships, navigate social boundaries, and develop soft skills that will help them wherever they go.”