Peer Academic Advisors and Their Advice for Students

Many of us have at least heard of peer academic advisors. Some have even spoken with them at one time or another. These knowledgeable students give their peers information and advice regarding scheduling, major selection, breadth requirements and other relevant concerns. They are also currently hiring for next year.
The Peer Academic Program is accepting applications for fall quarter 2006 through spring quarter 2007. The paid positions are highly coveted, as PAAs have a certain amount of power and a whole lot of responsibility. Applicants must be juniors or seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or above and they may apply only in the schools in which they major. Students can also be PAAs for the Campuswide Honors or Undecided/Undeclared programs.
The two-page application, which is available in the academic counseling office of each department or through the UC Irvine Web site, precedes the interviews, which are conducted in early February. Selections are made at the end of that month.
Once selected, there is an extensive amount of training during spring quarter. Future PAAs are trained from the basics to breadth requirements. Special emphasis is placed on breadth since it is universal and integral for students to graduate. PAAs also receive practice in public speaking, as they need to be able to address individual students, aggressive parents, meetings and panels. After this basic training, PAAs continue training with their respective offices and schools.
The position of PAA has many perks and rewards. PAAs meet important people in their offices, including deans. They also meet many students, whom they both assist and represent in meetings and for research purposes.
‘As a PAA, I never realized how powerful it is to give students information,’ said Fatima Naveed Iqbal, peer academic advising coordinator and fourth-year philosophy and political science. ‘Especially when you tell students the right thing and help them when they are really stressed out, then the reward is so amazing afterwards. They immediately calm down, or at least if you can’t solve their problems right away, you can point to a resource that helps solve their problem.’
Iqbal’s own experience with the PAA program began as a freshman when she was facing difficulties planning her classes. Too intimidated to see a counselor, Iqbal’s then-roommate, who was a PAA for social sciences, gave Iqbal advice and assisted her with her academic planning. Iqbal was impressed by her wealth of knowledge and was inspired to participate in the PAA program.
‘Everyone has a hard time asking others for help. This way it’s a little easier because you are talking to a peer, someone who can understand because they are taking the same classes. They are going through the same stress, whether it’s [their] first year or graduation,’ Iqbal said. ‘We have peers that went through all of that.’
As with any job, however, being a PAA does have its downfalls. PAAs are often forced to deal with angry parents or students, which is always an intimidating situation. Students do not always like the remedies proposed by the PAAs, like having to take a certain amount of units and following rigid guidelines while on academic probation.
Furthermore, some students are a bit distrusting because of confidentiality. The PAAs, however, are often mistaken for counselors because of their degree of professionalism and their knowledge.
‘As an authority figure, you want to convey to the students that you do respect their privacy,’ Iqbal said. ‘Students have to know that we are there for them and there is no way we would ever violate that trust.’
During their 10-hour work week, PAAs see several students a day. Some students come in simply to make sure they are on the right track. These students receive assurance and advice on how to broaden their horizons. Others come in only when they are in trouble and in a panic. The PAAs do what they can to help these students get back on the right track. Regardless of why a student comes into the office, most students have to see a PAA before they may speak to a counselor.
‘There is such a sea of information at UCI,’ Iqbal said. ‘It’s nice to know that you can go to someone who will help you navigate