As freshmen firmly plant their feet on campus to embark on a new journey, tackling course scheduling conflicts and finding resources on campus can be a difficult task for the newcomers. Since 2009, the PALS Mentoring Program’s mission has been to help new Cougars.

The program’s goal is to provide freshmen an opportunity to have an “at will” advisor who can answer questions from where to find information about health care services on campus to how to successfully manage a course schedule.

Since the program’s debut, more than 350 UH faculty and staff members have volunteered their resources and time to answer an array of questions presented by the students. The students communicate with mentors through email until the middle of their first semester. Among the emails that mentors send to answer the student’s specific questions, they also send frequent messages that contain answers to questions commonly asked by people new to the UH campus or college life.

Simon Bott, instructional professor in the Department of Chemistry and director of undergraduate affairs and advising, developed the program and serves as lead mentor. Each fall, mentors in the PALS program could be assigned up to 30 students to work with during the first half of the semester.

“The program’s greatest accomplishment was assigning each new student to a mentor,” said Bott. During the program’s pilot year, 80 percent of the participating students were assigned to a mentor. Some may have considered this a success, but he viewed it as a challenge to ensure all students in the program had a mentor to help them navigate their freshman year.

Almost every freshman since 2009 has taken advantage of the program, and Bott sees no chance of it slowing down. Looking ahead, Bott would like to offer the program to incoming transfer students. Accomplishing this goal requires participation from more faculty and staff, which he also hopes to achieve.

“Many students have benefitted from someone being there,” said a longtime mentor reflecting on the program’s impact on new Cougars, “even if there isn’t a specific problem to solve, it’s reassuring to know you’ve got a PAL if you need one.”