Peer Health Mentor Network
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This year life looked different at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) campus. With most classes set up for remote learning and social distancing guidelines preventing large gatherings, student organizations have also had to adapt to a virtual format. Despite the lack of booths for involvement fair or general body meetings at the lecture halls, new clubs were not discouraged by the circumstances. The Peer Health Mentor Network (PHMN) is one of the newest clubs on campus motivated to keep students engaged and connected. With the goal of connecting inspiring healthcare professionals at all educational levels, the club hopes to create a large health care community. The Ampersand spoke to Honors College students Aditi Wadhwa and Ishan Agarwal, President and Vice President of the organization, on their challenges and successes starting a club amidst COVID-19.
Describe the purpose of the club
Ishan: It’s really hard for high schoolers, especially those that aren’t in well funded schools, to have the guidance to enter a daunting field such as health care. PHMN’s main purpose is to provide that guidance for those in high school, especially if you don’t already have a family friend or alumni from your own school to reach out to. It’s meant for those that are really interested in the field, but just don’t know how to approach college and their future.
When did the idea of the club come up and why did you decide it was important enough to launch despite restrictions?
Aditi: I thought of creating a club like this I would say in like mid-July. My younger sibling and cousins are going to college soon and they’ll come up to me and ask me questions about the college process, which makes me happy that I’m able to do that for them. But then I looked back to when I was applying as the oldest, where it was a lot of me doing my own work and my own research. It was a bit harder, but I was fortunate enough to have family friends that could help me through it too. But some people don’t have that, and I thought it was important to have their questions answered in an easy matter that’s not as intimidating as going to your school counselor. So that’s basically how it started and then I think late July is when we started posting about meetings and then by mid-august the board was solidified. We got our board together and then by the time the school year came around we were ready to go full force.
What were some of the obstacles PHMN faced and how did you overcome it?
Adito: I think one of the main obstacles was recruitment. This year all recruitment had to be done completely online whether that be through, emailing people and promoting on social media. So that was definitely a challenge but the whole board has been really amazing. They’ll suggest we should post on Honors College announcements or we should post on the Pre-Health blackboard. So I think it was just finding small ways to get the information out to people that would definitely be interested in our mission. I would say that’s how we tried to overcome that obstacle. Another way is by setting up an effective form of communication. We have a Slack channel which I feel like is sometimes more helpful rather than emails because we knew a lot of your emails are going to be coming from professors or classes. So we thought that maybe a more informal form of communication would help because you could just text people and be like hi guys will be meeting and it’s just a lot faster in my opinion than email.
Ishan: I think another obstacle is just the fact that we can’t really see the people that are involved in the club. It’s a bit harder to gauge interest and how you’re coming through to people since meetings are online as opposed to being in person. But I think we’ve done a good job of providing venues for students to give us feedback which helps us continue to do things that work and change the things that don’t.
What were your expectations for the club and have they been met?
Aditi: Initially, my expectation was that I just wanted to get a group of people that were at least interested enough in the club to take on a leadership role. And so I would say on my end at least, that expectation has been met because our board is great. They’re all really hard working people and they all bring different talents to the table and I think we’ve been lucky enough to have a lot of people participate in the club itself. Right now I think we have a total of around 80 people participating in the mentorship program, which is more than I have ever hoped for. I honestly was just hoping for around 10.
Ishan: Yeah, just like you said the level of participation surprised me. I remember when we held our first general body meeting, the attendance really surprised me, especially the first time I remember realizing how many people I had to talk to.
What are your future goals for the club?
Aditi: Yeah, so one of my main long-term goals is to have everybody that’s participating in the mentorship program to stay connected with their mentees and have it be something that they give us positive feedback on because we want the relationship to help both sides. I would say
another goal is just to host more pre-health related events for the people that are part of the club that may not be mentoring anybody, just so that they can have opportunities to get to talk to and ask questions from people in their field.
Ishan: I think another thing we’ve discussed is having a buddy system within our own college. So like for UIC having seniors mentor freshmen or sophomores and so that’s another goal we hope to put into action soon.
Have you thought about how the club would look like if things were to go back to “normal”?
Aditi: I personally haven’t thought about this too too much because I’m feeling a lot of it would stay the same. From the mentorship side of it a lot if it would remain virtual. The GBMs could definitely be a lot more interactive than they are right now. I feel like right now . . . I was reading slides and kept getting people on what’s going on. But in the future if we do go back to normal maybe like having it where we can ask people what they’re interested in or ask for suggestions on the spot rather than . . . get people Google forms. Maybe that’ll be a more helpful way to do it. I just feel like right now I appreciate the fact that the club is like mostly online just because it lets us have people from different schools participate so that they can participate in EMS and be more heavily involved. I feel like once we go back in person, we’ll have to figure out a better way to keep them informed and holdsmall meetings for people that don’t go to UIC.
Alright, and then I have just one more question. How do you believe people will grow from being part of this club?
Aditi: Well, I hope that people get a lot out of this club. I hope they’re able to see that they can make a change in the area they are going into. Even if you’re a freshman in college, you can still have a really big impact on somebody else’s life that wants to do something similar to you. Starting to shape the field from a young age I think just feels good to be able to do that. I also hope that it gives people the knowledge they need to succeed in their field. So whether that’s through our events, or just talking to other people in the club, I hope that it equips them with what they need to be successful.
Ishan: Yeah building off that, for the high school mentees in general like Aditi said, I hope the guidance that they’re provided gives them a greater perspective going into college so that they’re more well-prepared. For the members, I think being able to guide someone makes you almost relive what you did and I guess it makes you introspective. People can reflect on what they’ve done. Also, as we get into the buddy system I was talking about, we can have more intermember communication . . . that will help build students’ perspectives. For example, the ability for a pre-med to talk to a pre-vet. I don’t really see that strong connection on our campus with these interrelated fields, but with our club, hopefully that can facilitate that type of connection.