Elizabeth Jennings experienced tremendous growth during her time as a University 101 peer leader. Elizabeth, a senior majoring in Visual Communications and minoring in Theatre, is one of hundreds of past and current peer leaders who have been positively affected by their experience co-teaching the course. University 101 peer leaders have the opportunity to regularly mentor and influence first-year students in a positive and meaningful way during their first semester at USC, but the experience impacts the peer leaders, too.
Over 98% of University 101 peer leaders report that their peer leader experience improved their interpersonal communication skills, their overall leadership skills, self-awareness, and self-understanding. Additionally, 98% report that serving in the University 101 classroom contributed positively to their overall experience at the University of South Carolina.
Elizabeth Jennings took University 101 her freshman year, looked up to her peer leader, and knew that she one day wanted to serve as a mentor to her own group of students. “U101 planted a seed in me that made me want to be a part of the community and to make a difference at this university.” Elizabeth became a University 101 peer leader two years later, during her junior year in fall 2017. She describes her time as a peer leader as an experience that she loved and something that brought her great joy. Not only did she feel she truly connected with and made a difference in her students’ lives, but she also experienced many personal benefits. “I truly feel that this role has influenced me outside the realm of teaching U101, it has affected me wholly as a person and has helped me mature into the person I want to be.”
I truly feel that this role has influenced me outside the realm of teaching U101, it has affected me wholly as a person and has helped me mature into the person I want to be.
Like other peer leaders, Elizabeth says her public speaking skills improved dramatically as a result of her peer leader experience, with her now feeling completely at ease addressing groups of people and being more aware of her presentation style, body language, use of filler words, and enunciation when speaking. The experience also helped her socially. Elizabeth describes herself as introverted and says that the peer leader experience helped her become more comfortable talking to people she’s not very familiar with – not only in the classroom, but in her personal life, as well.
Because of her newfound confidence, Elizabeth decided to take some of her own advice – advice she was regularly giving to her University 101 students – and sought opportunities to step out of her comfort zone and look for deeper and more meaningful involvement on campus.
“[As peer leaders,] we are taught to encourage student involvement and student organizations as much as possible because it’s the easiest way for students to find like-minded people to become friends with. I took the advice and asked one of my professors how I could get involved with the theatre program here. I never thought I could be a part of it because I’m not a theatre major, but my professor immediately told me to write down all my contact info and I was in my first rehearsal the next day.”
Being a peer leader gave me the courage I needed to make some drastic changes to my life…it made me finally realize that I deserve to go after what I want.
- Elizabeth Jennings
Elizabeth quickly became involved with stage management for the theatre program and found the job required the same leadership, care, and compassion she was exhibiting in her peer leader role. “I love to help people and loved the idea that I could help people [in the theatre department] and use the skills I learned through other experiences as a U101 peer leader.” Elizabeth’s work with the theatre program led to genuine friendships with others involved in the department’s productions, the first meaningful friendships she had experienced at USC.
“For the first time in two and a half years, I felt like I truly belonged at this university. I [had] the courage to build relationships and to be in control of my own life. I have learned to not let my happiness depend on other people. I have learned to take risks. Being a peer leader gave me the courage I needed to make some drastic changes to my life…it made me finally realize that I deserve to go after what I want.”