Ever wondered how Peer Adviser training works? We sat down with program coordinator Merci Sugai for reflections on the process and how PAs make new Wildcats feel welcome.

Judy: Hi everyone, my name is Judy.

Rachel: And my name is Rachel and you're listening to AmericAZN Girl, a podcast that explores Asian America, one conversation at a time.

Judy: It’s nearing the end of spring quarter, and Peer Advisers have gone through the bulk of their training in preparation for the fall. The PAs will be gathering on Thursday for their all-staff, the final meeting before they receive their PA group assignments.

Rachel: To learn more about what the PAs have been up to, we chatted with Merci Sugai, the program coordinator of all 220 PAs this year.

Merci: My name is Merci Sugai. I've been the Assistant Director for Student Leadership Development and New Student Programs. So kind of a mouthful of a title, but I've been in that role since July of 2022.

Judy: This is my burning question about the PA program because I know that's something that you manage, why is this so intense?

Merci: Describe what you mean by intense.

Judy: It’s very involved, like you start maybe early in January, and then you have a full day retreat. And then you have trainings throughout the Spring Quarter and you meet summer and meet up with the students in fall and then it's like, it's a very long process. Especially when the work is mainly focused into one week or so. So I’m curious about your perspective.

Merci: In my perspective, I definitely realize that it's multi-quarter commitment levels that I'm asking PAs. Once it jumps into Spring Quarter, we do spring training and fall training because we want PAs to feel really comfortable communicating with their new students over the summer, which is an expectation for them all to communicate just virtually with all of them. And it's also a pretty big responsibility that we give Peer Advisers to make new students feel super welcome and comfortable on campus knowing that those are the first people that will have maybe voice-to-voice or face-to-face contact with before they move to the University who like represents the school and an academic program. And so it's not a responsibility that we take super lightly, which is why there is an all-day retreat in the spring. There are six sessions of our training course in the spring and then PAs move to campus a week early to do PA camp. So all in all, they will go through about 15 training sessions before they are in front of PA groups, so before they’re in front of new students.

Judy: So from my friend, Sammi, she’s a 2023 PA and basically from her experience being a PA she knows that this group of PAs that you have to lead through all these trainings, they're very, like in particular extroverted and passionate, but also very rowdy.

Merci: Sure. (laughter)

Judy: So she was impressed by how well you manage this group. So how do you do it?

Merci: I don't know, that's a really good question. I'm very thankful that I also have a group of 10 student staff who help me. I also am very impressed by PAs ability to channel their passion into different parts of PA training. I'm sure Sammi told you that there's a lot of PA training that's like, “Yay! Cheering!” And like dancing but there's a lot of PA training that is super serious so typically, I like to break up those activities, so that PAs aren't sitting in one spot for too long. I try to take their feedback like super, super seriously as far as what kind of content they want to see, how long they want to be in trainings, when they want to do the trainings, who they want to see at the trainings.

And hopefully PAs can see their impact actually being implemented and all the things they say, I really try to take to heart so hopefully we build that like rapport and trust so that by the time I'm training them pretty intensely in the fall that they know like, “OK, Merci is going to take what I say seriously and my feedback seriously.” Also, I think our office has a really good job of just showing our – hopefully showing our care and trying to get to know all of the Peer Advisers and support them emotionally as well as in their position as a PA. But I don't know, that's a really good question. (laughter)

Rachel: What do you think most like, excites you and keeps you engaged as your role as the Assistant Director?

Merci: Honestly, it's the students that I get to work with, which is kind of a cliche thing to answer, but I genuinely really enjoy getting to know all the 220 students. I try to learn all their names, and last year I was able to do that. And I think the best part about that is I get to learn things that motivate them on campus, involvement they have on campus, things that are maybe a little nerve-wracking to them about being a PA and the more we can learn about them, the more I feel like I can support them.

I'm also really lucky because those students that I work with are volunteering their time and energy to make a difference. Typically, if you're someone who wants to do that, usually you’ll be motivated to work towards the common good of supporting students. And because everyone has that shared goal to support our incoming Class of 2028 now and new transfers, I think that motivates us even like at our lowest points, or when we're most tired or exhausted from training, we can always be like, “Well, we're supporting this new and great group of people and in order to support that we have to maintain at least a little bit of energy to get through training and and to learn as much as we can.”

Rachel: For students who might be tuning into this podcast, and are thinking about the PA system and maybe even applying to be a PA. Who do you think should be a PA, what qualities do you look for?

Merci: Yeah, the biggest one is open-mindedness. Advocacy is a huge part of the PA role. Peer Adviser training will frankly not be interesting to you if you're not interested in learning about other people and supporting other people and supporting a group of maybe a group of 10 new students that have identities or experiences or backgrounds that you've never heard of, or met anyone with those exact lived experiences before. So it's really important that Peer Advisers want to genuinely support all new students and not knowing exactly who those students are going to be quite yet.

Judy: Those are all our serious questions, but one last question is where do you shop for clothes? People notice your fits. (laughter)

Merci: Depop, that's such a boring answer, but I get really overwhelmed looking at larger clothing websites and being like, “OK, let me just see if there's anything cool that catches my eye.” So typically, if I'm looking for, specifically during Wildcat Welcome we have the same shirts that we have to wear, but I can wear fun pants, so I can Google on Depop for patterned pants [inaudible]. That's really nice of you to say though. I take my Wildcat Welcome fits very seriously.

Judy: Thank you for tuning in to AmericAZN Girl. I'm Judy.

Rachel: And I'm Rachel, and we'll see you in the next episode.