“Sometimes it’s easy to feel imposter syndrome or overwhelmed. It’s really important to communicate your needs and to know you’re not alone.”

Nicole Faraci, third-year Ph.D. student in the School Psychology Program and Peer Support Provider

Recently launched this fall, the Graduate Peer Support Providers program is designed to help Berkeley graduate students learn about and more easily access the types of basic needs, mental health, and academic support services available on campus. Graduate students themselves, Peer Support Providers (PSPs) provide support to their peers with understanding, experience, and respect, using an equity-based lens.

Denzil Streete summarized, “One of the great things about being a graduate student at Cal is the vast amount of campus resources. The challenge is making sense of what’s available to graduate students in a way that’s manageable. Peer Support Providers can help guide students through this maze.”

The graduate student experience is challenging and finding services and support can be difficult. Peer Support Providers offer a one-stop shop for graduate students not sure where to go for support.They can also provide encouragement and empowerment to students as they navigate graduate school.

headshots of five student Peer Support Providers
Peer Support Providers (from top) Shari Aronson, Nicole Faraci, Makaela Jones, Julissa Navas, and Cynthia Valencia-Ayala

Working under the supervision of School Psychology Program director Kate Perry, the five current PSPs — Shari Aronson, Nicole Faraci, Makaela Jones, Julissa Navas, and Cynthia Valencia-Ayala — are all Ph.D. students in the School Psychology Program. “We hope to be able to offer students the opportunity for an informal conversation with somebody who gets it,” explained Makaela Jones. The PSP program also works in coordination with staff from Counseling and Psychological Services.

Through the new Graduate Peer Support Providers webpage, graduate students can easily schedule a 20-minute one-on-one in-person or Zoom appointment to share their needs and concerns. PSPs draw from the immense array of campus resources available to graduate students — from basic needs, general health and wellness, and psychological counseling, to academic and professional development support, as well as resources that support social engagement and leisure activities. Specifically, PSPs can guide students through tedious processes such as scheduling appointments, finding health care providers, accessing academic forms, and searching for housing. They can also provide access and information about mental health services through resources or in-the-moment navigation.

A small sampling of the many services at their fingertips include: the Basic Needs Center, the Food Justice Project, the Rent Stabilization Board, Student Legal Services, the Holistic Fund for emergency financial support, University Health Service Center, the Disabled Students Program, CAPS, Latinx Center of Excellence and Behavioral Health, Asian Pacific American Student Development Office, GSI Teaching and Resource Center, the Ombuds Office, and CalLink.

While Peer Support Providers offer confidential one-on-one guidance to graduate students, they do not provide counseling services themselves. Nor are they able to help students access specific disability accommodations or act as a liaison between students and advisors. However, being deeply familiar with the many resources available at Berkeley, PSPs can listen and point students to the most appropriate service to meet their needs.

Cynthia Ayala-Valencia, who is in the final stages of her Ph.D. program adds, “Our role is really to help grad students identify different places that they can go to receive support, to provide a listening ear in a judgement-free space, and then make it easier to navigate resources so students don’t have to go through ten different websites looking for something.”

Three of the five PSPs come from minoritized backgrounds and can understand URM students’ unique challenges and needs. Speaking to Berkeley URM doctoral students at a recent Path to the Professoriate meeting, Cynthia Valencia-Ayala related her own experience. “Being a Ph.D. student at Berkeley for the past many years, I had a lot of these kinds of issues, whether related to health, not having enough money, housing, and issues with faculty. As a first-generation student, I wish I had had someone or a place to reach out to. It can be really intimidating to ask these questions.”

She continues, “The PSP program is a safe space where you can reach out to other students who have maybe gone through the same thing that you have, and guide you in how to manage these issues.”

For more information about the Peer Support Provider program, the services they offer, or to schedule an appointment, visit the PSP website.