As a result of pressure from the Female Economists of Wesleyan (FEW) and the Economics Majors Committee, the University is funding a new economics peer mentoring program this semester through the Economics Department and the Office of Student Affairs. The workshop is open Sunday through Thursday from 7-9 p.m. in PAC 136. It was put together in the hopes that the program would foster a sense of community among Economics majors, as well as provide the growing number of students enrolled in economics courses with an additional, easily accessible resource. At the end of the semester, the Economics Department and Office of Student Affairs will review the program to determine its efficacy.
Kerry Nix ’16, founder of FEW and the main organizer of the program, described the role of the new peer mentoring program.
“It’s an extra resource for students studying economics, and it’s really a place where people can go ask questions about problem sets they’re working on, ask questions that don’t have anything to do with problem sets they’re working on if there’s anything they’re curious about, and it’s also a way… for students of economics at different levels to meet each other in an informal, pressure-free, fun environment for pursuing their studies,” Nix said.
Melissa Lowe ’17, who also served as one of the program’s organizers, spoke to the need for community in the economics major.
“I think that all of us who are involved with creating this had found that the [Economics] major is really isolating, and we wanted to create a better community where people had more support to ask questions,” Lowe said. “That was the main goal in creating it.”
Joli Holmes ’17 was also heavily involved in the program’s planning, and discussed how the problem came to the attention of Economics students.
“Essentially, the idea for it started when Kerry started FEW—Female Economists of Wesleyan,” Holmes said. “We were kind of feeling a lack of community in the Economics department because… there’s a lot of stuff going on in the Economics Department so it feels like a bit of a fragmented major sometimes, so we created FEW to try to create a sense of community, especially for women in [economics] because there’s not a lot of women in [economics]….And so, the more we were talking about it, we were thinking…‘Why is there this lack of community, why do we see that people are having a harder time connecting to other people in the Economics major as opposed to other majors, where everyone’s best friends with each other?’”
Nix described how the peer mentors were chosen, stating that peer tutors whose applications were accepted were then eligible to work in the Economics Workshop for an hourly wage.
“Through the Office of Student Affairs, you can already kind of sign up as a peer tutor for any class, any department, but for this it’s kind of a special extension of that where economics students will sign up to be peer tutors through Office of Student Affairs and the Office of Student Affairs will compensate them for working with individual [economics] students,” Nix said.
Nix and Lowe further discussed the initial resistance the program faced from the faculty, stating that budgetary concerns were a large obstacle but that the demand and the necessity for the program were both apparent.
“We fought really hard as students, essentially, to create this,” Nix said.
“I think that all faculty are really happy that it’s now running, or will run soon, but I think it’s something that they didn’t realize there are sources beyond their own department funding that can be channeled to [economics] stuff,” Lowe said. “I think that maybe that makes it kind of a special case, where we’re using the Office of Student Affairs funding because there’s a huge demand for it, there’s a huge increase in enrollments in [economics] classes, the past few years particularly, so there’s a huge growing student body and maybe the TAs, who are probably doing a great job, but just don’t have as many arms as are required to help all students at the same time.”
Despite the endorsement of the program by the Economics Department and the Office of Student Affairs, Holmes said that guaranteeing funding proved to be problematic for the organizers.
“Peer mentors are really supposed to be fulfilling these two roles, one as a support system… and also trying to assist as much as possible, and because they have to serve these two roles, Kerry and I and Melissa really felt that we had to pay our tutors, and it has been a little bit hard to actually guarantee funding,” Holmes said.
Despite funding issues, the workshop is currently staffed by several volunteer tutors, including Nix and Lowe. Tutors must have already taken core courses, such those in quantitative analysis, microeconomics, and macroeconomics.
Nix expressed hope that the program would not only build community, but also that it would promote a shift in how Economics majors view the department and each other.
“Also, I think it just makes a new breed of student leader, someone that’s more community oriented and that’s not focused on individual achievement, but actually on spreading your wonderful understanding of certain concepts in class, and Melissa and I found that the act of tutoring is just useful because it refreshes stuff that you learned in other class,” Nix said.