C/O Pardis Ghaneian
By: Esther Liu, Contributor
The Silhouette: Please introduce yourself!
Ghaneian: My name is Pardis Ghaneian, my pronouns are she/her and I am in my final year of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour at McMaster University. In terms of clubs and involvement, I’ve been a research assistant, community advisor, Archway mentor and [teaching assistant] at McMaster over the past few years.
What inspired you to become an Archway Mentor?
A long time ago, I dreamed of moving to Canada and studying at McMaster. I was able to achieve that in 2014! I moved from Iran but in the beginning, it was challenging for me to transition from a country with a totally different language and culture. I had lots of barriers, language barriers, cultural barriers, financial barriers — it was difficult to adjust to the environment and I didn’t have a strong support system to really help me during that time.
But then later when I started university, I had a great community around me with my community advisors and program mentors and it really inspired me to do the same when I can. That really contributed to me being happier and healthier and doing better overall. I decided to support students transitioning into university or even a new country. I was really really excited to become a CA in my third year with other dedicated student leaders and support my students’ growth and feelings that I had in my first year.
Alongside working as a CA, I really wanted to connect with my Iranian-Canadian community and promote my culture and support international students. I started up a mentorship program within the McMaster Iranian Students Association to give academic and non-academic support to all the new students, whether they’re international or just transitioning from home.
This year, I initially planned on being a CA for the third time and I was super pumped about it, but unfortunately, we couldn’t because they were closing down the majority of the residence buildings. They offered the CAs the opportunity to work as Archway mentors. I just really love working with first-years and I accepted the position right away. Especially since everything’s online, I can’t imagine how hard it must be for them to find resources or even learn anything about how university life is.
What did you expect out of the Archway program?
At first, the email that was sent to us was basically saying that: “we’re in a pandemic; we have to close down the residence buildings. But, we have another opportunity where you can help first years as Archway mentors.”
I’ve done a lot of mentorship programs at Mac and I was expecting Archway to be a similar experience, but it was more formalized than I was expecting. Later on, we learned that it was going to be a lot bigger and more formal and have a full summer of training for that. But, it’s been great! I’m super happy that they did it on such a large scale so that all the students were able to benefit from this opportunity because we have, what, over 8000 first-year students? Even more? If they were to connect only a few people to each of the upper-years, we couldn’t accommodate everyone and [that] would take away the opportunity from so many people.
How has your experience been?
I was initially working with one community of 43 students. It was great, but to increase the engagement we decided to combine my community with another one to allow students to find more friends and expand their online networking with other McMaster students. It’s been really great to see a diverse set of students from all over the world.
I have students calling from China, from Nova Scotia, some people from Hamilton . . . It was super cool to see everyone calling in from different places and have those connections. I’m constantly learning from them. I don’t want to be the one who only shares my experiences, I always ask questions to learn from the younger generations and see what’s happening.
What is your favourite memory/part of being an Archway Mentor?
My favourite memory was when we started off this program earlier in July when we were connecting with all of the students one-on-one virtually. Everyone was really excited for their upcoming year and I just really loved that energy. There were also a lot of uncertainties and I really resonated with how they were feeling. I really enjoyed being able to resolve some of those uncertainties about university and connect students who were scared of not being able to find friends, not able to succeed in their classes with resources and others.
What’s been your biggest challenges as a mentor?
Even though it’s really great to have people from all over the world in the program, it’s sometimes hard to coordinate times to meet and there are different network issues. Connectivity has been a big problem for a lot of students, sometimes they’re not able to even share their video and it’s hard to gauge their body language and see how they’re feeling. It makes me wonder whether they feel supported enough. I’ve been trying my best to consistently email them and provide them with different platforms to reach out to, but it’s always on my mind whether they feel supported or not.
Are there any possible improvements to the program that you can think of?
The Archway team has been working tremendously hard to build this whole thing from scratch. They didn’t know what the university was going to be like. At first, we heard that fall was going to be online and then it became the whole year. There were just so many uncertainties for the people who are developing a program on such a large scale. They’ve all been working really hard.
Some of the things we could learn from this year are to implement more large-scale events for students earlier on. At the beginning, even though we had a lot of community events, we figured out that some of the communities could be combined to have more engagement. Knowing that, next year we could just start with those larger groups and events to better connect students. It’s just important to reflect on what happened this year and what to do in the future.
What have you learned through your experiences as a CA and Archway mentor?
It’s been really hard to transition to an online environment, not only for first-years but for upper-years, for faculty members — for everyone really. As I said before though, I think it’s a lot harder for first-years since they don’t have that pre-existing experience with university and it could feel isolating too as a lot of other university students may say that they found their best friends in their first year.
So throughout these past few years, I really learned how important it is to have those connections and I’ve been really trying hard to create these connections with our students to create a welcoming, warm and inclusive environment.
What would you say to those applying to be an Archway Mentor or CA?
I really feel like working as a CA and as an Archway mentor have been a major part of my university experience. So congratulations on making one of your best life decisions! It actually has been one of my best decisions, it’s been so great to be involved and I feel that it really helped with my character development.
I grew from a hesitant and shy person to a strong student leader, mentor and supporter of my residence and Archway community. I know it may seem intimidating to take on such a big role in an online environment, however, the lasting positive impact you have on students, especially during this challenging time, is worth it.