Barry McNamara  |  Published February 27, 2023

Scots Helping Scots

Seniors Bigham, Meldrum have leadership role in Monmouth’s First-Year Mentors program

READY TO HELP: Students involved with Monmouth's First-Year Mentors program are shown last Au... READY TO HELP: Students involved with Monmouth's First-Year Mentors program are shown last August during training before the start of the 2022-23 academic year.MONMOUTH, Ill. – A simple way to describe Monmouth College’s First Year Mentor program is “Scots helping Scots.”

“The First Year Mentor program is designed to help new students adjust to college life – not just academically, but socially, too,” said Associate Dean for Academic Success Joan Wertz, who also chairs the psychology department. “As peer educators, the mentors serve as good role models for our new students and can talk realistically about challenges and how to overcome them, as well as where to find resources on campus.”

After being selected to participate in the program and undergoing training, each of the First-Year Mentors is assigned to a section of “Inquiry & Identity,” the common course for new students. Each section has 15-20 students.

“It’s a great opportunity to get more involved on campus and also with the campus community, and to help ease the nerves of our new students and help answer their questions.” Madison Meldrum


Among those student leaders, two are chosen each year to be the Lead Mentors. The students filling that role this year are seniors Cal Bigham of Aledo, Illinois, and Madison Meldrum of Colona, Illinois.


‘Most important program’

“It’s the most important program we have for freshman retention,” said Bigham. “For most of our students, this is what they point to as why they love Monmouth.”

“It’s a great opportunity to get more involved on campus and also with the campus community, and to help ease the nerves of our new students and help answer their questions,” said Meldrum. “It’s also a lot of fun working with the other mentors as we go through training together.”


Paying it forward

As is the case with the other First-Year Mentors, Meldrum and Bigham are not so far removed from their own first days on campus to forget what making the adjustment was like.

Bigham was assigned Elizabeth Gustafson. Before graduating in 2022, Gustafson was named Monmouth’s Student Laureate of the Lincoln Academy of Illinois.

LEAD MENTORS: Seniors Cal Bigham and Madison Meldrum have leadership roles in the First-Year Ment... LEAD MENTORS: Seniors Cal Bigham and Madison Meldrum have leadership roles in the First-Year Mentors program.“I had a really good mentor who was there for me to help and to answer questions,” said Bigham.

Gustafson then offered Bigham the opportunity to pay it forward, asking him to apply to be a mentor.

Meldrum had the same experience, being recommended for her role by her mentor, Ian Moles.

Although Meldrum came to Monmouth three weeks early to participate in the SOFIA summer research program and developed a feel for campus, she still appreciated orientation leaders telling her more about each building and what services and resources were provided.

Meldrum and Bigham have taken their own experiences and tried to keep the best parts of orientation and working with mentors, while also looking for new ideas.

“We’re always looking for ways to improve things, like figuring out what icebreakers are best,” said Bigham. “It’s important for new students to have someone to talk to, so we’re very aware of working to get people to talk to you right off the bat.”

To that end, a tweak the leaders are planning for next August is to share the responsibility of taking new students to their meals with residence life staff, “so that they get to know more people right away,” said Meldrum.


Guiding toward success

For Meldrum, talking to new students comes easily. Bigham has to put a little more thought into it.

“I’m an outgoing person, and I love meeting people and helping people,” said Meldrum. “I see the students I worked with around campus, and we say ‘Hi’ and catch up, or they shoot me a Snapchat.”

“The First Year Mentors partner with faculty members in advising students, and together they do a great job of guiding our new students toward success here at Monmouth. Joan Wertz


“I’m more of the opposite,” said Bigham. “I’m generally more reserved, but at orientation, I try to switch it. I try to be that outgoing person for them, even though I’m not that outgoing all the time.”

As Bigham said, the idea behind the program is to help new students feel welcomed and to get them off to a strong start for their next four years.

“The First Year Mentors partner with faculty members in advising students, and together they do a great job of guiding our new students toward success here at Monmouth,” said Wertz.

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