When PeerForward in College at California State University, Los Angeles began in 2020, Mario Bahena felt an instant connection to the program’s mission. “I really wanted to make sure no one struggled like I did.” As a Peer Leader, he inspired and guided first-year students through a successful transition to campus. Now, as an Academic Advisor for his alma mater, Mario is making a difference in the lives of Latinx first-generation college students.
Mario earned his B.A in Chicana(o) and Latina(o) Studies from California State University, Los Angeles in 2021. His degree holds cultural and historical significance; Cal State LA is a federally recognized Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI), and is home to the nation’s first Chicano Studies Department. It was his studies that initially sparked his drive to be a positive influence academically. “I was debating whether I would become a professor or an advisor, but I had no background in counseling. That’s when I heard about PeerForward.”
Mario would serve as a Eagle Peer Leader (the Cal State LA mascot is the Golden Eagle) during his senior year and gain insight into his potential career prospect, “with Peer Leaders, students are more open to just talking about their day. They’re teaching you that repoire is really important to establishing those connections to your students.” Along with establishing a repoire, he learned the delicate yet delightful balance necessary to be an effective advisor. “Being a Peer Leader was so fun, you really are the bridge between mentorship, professionalism, and being there for that student,” Mario beamed.
He recognized how his own journey as a man of color could inspire others to persist towards their degree. After his year with PeerForward in College at Cal State LA, Mario felt certain about how he could utilize his education, experience, and talent to make a difference in his community. He joined the University Academic Advising Center (UAAC) at Cal State LA as an Academic Advisor. “Now that I graduated, I’m now an Academic Advisor at the UAAC (University Academic Advising Center). A lot of the tools that Peer Leadership taught me, I use there – they’re all like a steppingstone into going into a career like that.”
Among all U.S. college students, the share of Latinos increased from 14% in 2010 to 19% in 2021. Providing holistic, culturally-competent support services to Latinx students will require advisor who are skilled at building an authentic connection and making campus resources easily accessible. “A lot of us aren’t really shown the right resources while on campus. I really think that creating change withn the institution is something that needs to be done and I think that starts with more people of color who represent the student population,” Mario stated.
As PeerForward welcomed a new cohort of Peer Leaders at our recent training, Mario offered a reminder of why it’s important to support students through finding success, “just knowing that you helped someone out so they didn’t have to struggle is the joy of it.”
Watch Mario’s advice for Peer Leaders: