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Wednesday, 29 October 2014 14:48

Peer Support Centre steers students in the right direction

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Mitchell Kurtz Mitchell Kurtz

The stereotype for many is that post-secondary life can be sometimes filled with a lot of post-curricular activities and it's all just a big carefree party.


However, this isn't nearly always the case. Some have problems ranging in minor to major.
For a post-secondary student, sometimes it’s easier to communicate and relate to someone who has been or is currently going through the trials and tribulations of being a first-time student.
This is where the Medicine Hat College Student Associations Peer Support Centre comes in.
VP of Student Life, Mitchell Kurtz, who was also a member of the college’s golf team which went to nationals in Quebec earlier this fall, says the program is needed and helps students who may be stressed and unsure of where to turn whether it’s an academic, professional or personal issue. Sometimes it’s serious personal issues, but sometimes it’s just the student needs to unload and “vent” because of stress due to a heavy workload.
The student may not want to ask for help because he or she may be initially intimidated or embarrassed explaining the issue to an older professional. 
“It depends on the busy-ness of the centre, say like during exams it’s busier and it’s always availability, but they usually get in right away,” explains Kurtz who notes the students can just come in and talk. “There’s no pressure situations for the students.
“It’s not (an instant) problem solver for the students, but it’s a safe environment and we make it as comfortable as possible for them to express themselves.”
The Peer Support Centre falls under the guise of the Students’ Association of the college. Kurtz, who was the vice-president (external) last school year, is now the VP of student life. He says there are 11 student volunteers who are part of the peer support team. They take an intense 12-hour course which is spread over two days so they know how to handle various situations.
The course involves a lot of scenario training and the workshops are beneficial in giving the volunteers some tools to handle whatever issues are being relayed.
He says candidates need to have the ability to know what to do and to act upon whatever situation pops up, but there are key traits all the volunteers must possess.
“They must be able to empathize and sympathize with (the student) and not judge all at once,” explains Kurtz. “This can be very helpful if they can do that.
“The workshop helps them put themselves in a position where they can better understand (the problem) and what to do. They can then offer other resources (i.e. professional counselling) if needed.”
Mark Bowker, the peer support co-ordinator at Medicine Hat College and helps oversee the program, says it works because the student volunteers are good people.
“They all care about other people — other people come first, they all have that quality,”explains the college staff member. “It’s a great bunch.”

Bowker adds that normally the peer support centre gets busier as the school year unfolds. The workload increases, the stress of a lack of funds, more exams take place, and some students get overwhelmed. He says volunteers do a good job with to not making a judgment on why students find themselves in situations such as too much homework or a lack of funds: “never ask the clients why: find out why, without asking why.”
Kurtz says many of the student volunteers are those who are studying in related fields such as social work or education.
Kurtz notes they get requests for help from students in various backgrounds.
He says all students need help whether it be rural or urban.
Kurtz says sometimes for rural students, a problem such as not being used to budgeting or problems which arise because they are living on their own crop up.
Kurtz say he likes being part of the program because he wants to give back. He went through some family issues and knows what a huge benefit getting some support made to him. He says that temporary crutch in getting straightened out by just talking to a peer can help enormously.
“I’ve had my struggles too,” says the fourth-year business student. “I like this because I love people. I think everyone is naturally good. All the villains in the world were probably good at some point.”

Read 1825 times Last modified on Wednesday, 29 October 2014 15:38
Ryan Dahlman

Managing Editor