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Stamps Engaging Leaders Program Makes Positive Impact

Peer leaders share their experiences

A group of 8 peer leader students sit in the courtyard of the Art and Architecture building.
Peer leaders attended team bonding and training sessions in August 2022.

Will I know anyone at this event?” How do I get to the Speaker Series?” Where’s the dining hall?”

These are some of the classic concerns from incoming Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design students that arise each year. The difference from 2022? Each student had connections with returning undergraduate students, who were just a GroupMe direct message away. 

In its inaugural year, the Stamps Engaging Leaders Program was designed to ease new student transition to Stamps and U‑M during the Fall 2022 semester. Led by knowledgeable, trained, and involved upperclass students, the program aimed to connect incoming students with their own peers – making the college experience less daunting. 

The group of leaders were assigned their own cohorts, where they coordinated in-person and virtual check-ins, organized study events, and became involved in Stamps community events.

Camp Counselor, or Peer Leader?

Peer leaders Emily Veguilla, Rena Grossman, Rachel Grabow, and Jake Schraga stand in front of a Stamps logo photo background wearing blue polo shirts.
Peer leaders Emily Veguilla, Rena Grossman, Rachel Grabow, and Jake Schraga attended the Welcome Bash on August 31. Photo via Jake Schraga

When junior BA student Jake Schraga entered the Fall 2022 orientation as a peer leader, he knew he could put his camp counselor experience to good use. 

I knew it’d be really natural for me. The job felt camp counselor-esque, because I was with a group of 15 first-year students – showing them around and participating in events with them,” Schraga said. I wanted to make sure that once students started here, they would feel welcome in Stamps and feel their own sense of the community.” 

Beyond hosting and attending Stamps events, Schraga was also open to direct messages from the students in his assigned cohort. When a student needed help finding the location for the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series, Schraga did more than just text the directions. He met the student at a meeting spot and sat with them at the event. 

Schraga says that he was impacted by the team bonding and training sessions led by Mark Chung Kwan Fan and Grace Giordano, which taught him how to work with his peers. 

I’ve learned how important it is to have a good relationship with all of your coworkers. What made the program the strongest was that all of us were comfortable with each other and could reach out for help,” Schraga said. When you have good relationships and a positive working space, it makes the job so much easier.” 

Being the Friend She Needed

Four students at a table with blue polo shirts and markers coloring custom buttons.
Peer leaders such as Naomi Rodriguez made custom buttons with Superlove Project at an event at Stamps Gallery.

Naomi Rodriguez (BFA 25) recalls being an out-of-state first-year student – a situation she says can be terrifying. 

I remembered how I felt when I finally unpacked my dorms and had to head to class,” Rodriguez said. As a peer leader, I wanted to be someone who could help, even in the smallest bit.” 

Rodriguez was a familiar face at welcome events towards the beginning of the Fall 2022 semester, but would often direct message students advice and words of encouragement. 

Since becoming a peer leader, Rodriguez has made it her mission to be the friend she needed as a first-year student. 

Personally, if I had this program when I was a first-year, I would have felt more comfortable in classrooms and meeting new people,” Rodriguez said. I always made it known that I may be considered a leader’ or a mentor’ but I will always be their friend if they need anyone!”

Learn more about the 2022 – 2023 peer leaders at Stamps. 

Story by Katelyn Stuck.