Top Row, L-R: Jessica Combow, Saliha Rai, and Aleisha Fernandes. Bottom Row, L-R: Balkeert Rakhra and Pooja Verma

Meet the executive team of the FHS Peer Mentorship Program

August 28, 2020

By Geron Malbas

The Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Peer Mentorship Program matches senior students with first-year Health Sciences students to provide mentorship and guidance. Senior undergraduates in the program develop mentoring skills, and mentees benefit from peer support to help them transition into their first year of university life. Due to COVID-19, the program will be held virtually with all events and programming being held through online platforms. 

We spoke with the FHS Peer Mentorship Program’s executive team to learn more about the program and their experience being FHS students.

Jessica Combow, a fifth-year FHS student in the Bachelor of Sciences (BSc) program and the Director of the FHS Peer Mentorship program, recommends students familiarize themselves with SFU. For example, the SFU Snap App or Room Finder are just a few resources students can use to get more comfortable being on campus. She also advises not to be too hard on yourself during this time.

“Living through a pandemic is challenging, and you should take a day off for yourself if you need one," Combow explains.  "Go get a Slurpee while you’re at it and invest in noise-cancelling headphones or earplugs!”

Aleisha Fernandes, a sixth-year FHS student in the BSc program, points out that the Peer Mentors are trained to answer first-year students' frequently asked questions, or will connect you to resources that can. She values how the program helped her build connections, meet other first-year students, and connect to a mentor who was empathetic to the struggles she faced in her first year.

“I didn’t know anyone at SFU when I first started, and it was amazing to meet someone in the FHS Peer Mentorship Program who was looking out for me and willing to help me navigate SFU,” she explains. “I write a lot of lists but my peer mentor was patient and sat down with me after my classes and answered all of my questions.”

Balkeert Rakhra, a fourth-year FHS student in the BSc program, stresses the importance of being open to embracing change both in and out of university. Rakhra understands that adjusting from high-school to university can be challenging, but she insists you will improve and learn new skills throughout your journey with the right tools.

“The first semester and even the first year can be very overwhelming, and it is okay to not do as well as you would expect; it is not a reflection of your whole academic career,” exclaims Rakhra. “It is also important to be open to new experiences and embracing change, as every new experience throughout your university experience will make you a stronger individual.”

Saliha Rai, a third-year FHS student in the BSc program, has been a part of the program for over two years. During her time as a mentee, she gained the confidence to engage with faculty members and peers, as well as how to provide support and resources with active listening skills. She also stresses the importance of maintaining your physical and mental health amidst your academics.

“Take some time out for yourself to go outdoors and don’t forget to enjoy yourself while you’re busy studying hard,” she exclaims. “Do not be afraid to reach out for help or speak to mentors about any concerns you may have. Faculty members are also here to support you throughout your journey here at SFU, and it just takes an introduction to open the doors that will benefit you throughout your time at SFU.”

Pooja Verma, a fifth-year FHS student in the BSc program who has been a part of the FHS Peer Mentorship program for over four years, emphasizes getting involved.

“There are many ways to get involved with SFU, like talking to professors, or finding volunteer opportunities that SFU has to offer on myInvolvement,” she explains. “Everyone in your first-year classes is going to be in the same shoes as you, so don’t be shy to make friends.”

Given the diverse FHS population, which includes people who are black, indigenous, or people of colour (BIPOC), the FHS Peer Mentors stress the importance of health perspectives that FHS students should consider throughout their degrees. FHS students learn about the social determinants of health in all of their classes, which investigates how gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, income levels, employment, and environment shape health outcomes and perceptions of the world.

“It is important to consider the long history of colonialism and how that has affected individuals in different aspects of their life and health, as well as the perceptions around ethnicity and sexual orientation that influence different aspects of life,” Combow explains. “I implore my peers to read up on the history of this country, how different social determinants affect health outcomes, and how socioeconomic status influences day-to-day life.”

“It is important for everyone to consider all of these social determinants of health that we learn about in various HSCI classes, and see how they affect different health outcomes,” Pooja adds. “Always keep these social determinants of health in mind, and look at how they influence yourself and the people in the FHS community.”

The FHS Peer Mentors also encourage students to consider aspects of health that are not often addressed. During her project on breast cancer screening for South Asian immigrants, Fernandes found it difficult to research for a population that was hard to reach due to multiple cultural or societal reasons.

“While working on my project, I kept thinking about how my mom or my grandma would access this, or what would make it easier for them to get screened,” Aleisha recounts. “There are invisible illnesses that can be just as debilitating - if not more- than the ones we can see, or demographics that are often forgotten or mistreated due to a lack of concrete evidence or reporting.”

The FHS Peer Mentors also want students to take an interdisciplinary approach in learning how to incorporate an intersectional lens towards health and research.

“It is important for FHS students to educate themselves in topics outside of Health Sciences; for example, I have broadened my understanding of gender inequality and systemic racism throughout Canadian history by taking gender studies courses,” Saliha explains. “It is a great opportunity to deepen your knowledge and be respectful of others around you.”

“It is relatively easy to dismiss mental and physical health, but it is necessary and important to consider them,” Balkeert says. “If we want to take control of our life, we need a healthy body and mind to do so. This will help us reach success, peace, good relations, and many other achievements throughout our lives.”

Sign up for the FHS Peer Mentorship Program by September 4th!