From Scheduling Advice to Stress-Busting, Honors Informational Peers are There

Nine people pose for a photo while sitting in a room Image by Ed Brennen
This year's Honors Informational Peers meet with Asst. Director of Community Building Erin Maitland, center, at the Honors College's home at the Allen House.

By Ed Brennen

Not too long ago, Safad Khalifeh was an overwhelmed first-year biology major trying to find her bearings on campus. As a member of the Honors College, she attended an ice skating event hosted by the college at the Tsongas Center.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” says Khalifeh, now a senior. “It was just so nice to relax and meet other students.”

For the past two years, Khalifeh has worked as an Honors Informational Peer (HIP), leading similar enrichment activities for fellow honors students, answering questions about course scheduling and honors requirements and creating a stronger sense of community for the nearly 2,000 undergraduates in the program.

“A lot of students, especially during their first year, might be a little intimidated to ask for help,” says Khalifeh, a resident of Chelmsford, Massachusetts. “But if they can talk to students who are in their shoes, maybe even students who are in their major, it can help them feel less confused about the Honors College.”

Launched in fall 2021, HIPs are a spinoff of the Honors Orientation Peers — a half-dozen students who are hired by the college each summer to lead presentations about the program at orientation sessions.
A young woman in glasses smiles while sitting at a desk with a laptop and talking to two people Image by Ed Brennen
Honors Informational Peer Drasti Patel, a senior business major from Chelmsford, Massachusetts, meets with students at the Honors College's North Campus office on the first floor of Cumnock Hall.

“We’ve found that having the student perspective allows new honors students to realize that it’s not a scary thing, but rather a really cool opportunity,” says Asst. Director of Community Building and Honors Transfer Coordinator Erin Maitland, who manages the peer programs.

This year, eight students work five hours a week as HIPs: seniors Nikhila Gubbala (business), Mina Lam (business), Drasti Patel (business), Sophie Torres (psychology and criminal justice) and Khalifeh; juniors Jacob Morin (environmental engineering) and Davina Mwangi (business); and sophomore Maya Pandit (nursing).

In addition to holding scheduled office hours at the Allen House on South Campus and Cumnock Hall on North Campus, the students lead enrichment activities such as painting, origami and henna workshops. They also help spread the word about the Honors College at events like Welcome Day.

“I really enjoy all the opportunities that the Honors College offers, and I also really like to speak in public, so this was a job opportunity to do both,” says Morin, a Shrewsbury, Massachusetts, native who works as an informational and orientation peer.

Gubbala, who is from Chelmsford, completed her business degree (with concentrations in management information systems and analytics and operations management) in December but has been returning to campus each week this spring to work as an informational peer, leading paper flower and painting workshops.
A woman wearing a face mask and a sash takes part in an exercise with three other people Image by Ed Brennen
Honors Informational Peer Davina Mwangi, second from right, participates in an enrichment activity during 'Honor Yourself Week' last semester at O'Leary Library.

“I’ve always been interested in art, just as a hobby, so this is a fun way to be involved,” says Gubbala, who in July will start a job as an information technology analyst at the Depository Trust and Clearing Corporation, a fintech company in Boston.

Pandit, who is from Burlington, Massachusetts, says she enjoys advocating for fellow nursing majors in the honors program. She also likes helping students build their schedules with the NOW Student Dashboard.

“I really like technology; it’s always been my thing. So it’s really fun helping people see all the scheduling possibilities,” she says.

Torres got involved as a peer leader as a way to meet people after the remote learning phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“It’s been super-fun. I get to meet new people all the time,” says the Billerica, Massachusetts, native, who plans to attend law school in the fall. She enjoys sharing advice with students about completing the honors thesis — something she did last fall on solitary confinement and its effects on mental health and recidivism.
A woman in glasses and a bandana smiles while standing with several other people Image by Ed Brennen
Safad Khalifeh says being an Honors Informational Peer allows her to help new students make the adjustment to college.

Mwangi, an international student from Kenya, joined the Honors College as a transfer student from Middlesex Community College. Helping other Honors College students has been a “game-changer,” she says.

“I’ve learned so much about the Honors College. As much as I’m helping other students, it also helps me,” she says.

With nearly 300 transfer students joining the Honors College each year, Maitland says they plan to “reimagine” the orientation program and have the peer leaders continue working into the fall with transfers.

“We’d like to pair them with the new transfer students and work with them throughout the first semester to build that connection,” says Maitland, who will manage the orientation peers while Kelly Lawson, assistant director for student success and communications, will manage the HIPs.

Besides earning some extra money to help pay for school, Maitland notes that the students gain some valuable leadership experience for their résumés.

“The job is very intricate with understanding requirements, but then they’re also planning events and socializing with students,” she says. “And it helps a lot of them feel a stronger connection to the Honors College. They feel a sense of pride.”