First-year students thrive under the guidance of upperclass LEAP mentors

Max Campbell (back row, center) stands atop Mt. Nittany with first-year students he mentored this summer as part of the LEAP program. Credit: Max CampbellAll Rights Reserved.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – With the countdown to the start of the fall semester well underway, more than 1,200 members of Penn State’s class of 2020 have already mastered the lay of the land after participating in the Learning Edge Academic Program (LEAP).

A unique transition opportunity offered to first-year students enrolled in summer session, LEAP has steadily grown since it was first introduced at Penn State.   

Upperclass mentors are assigned to oversee individual “prides,” or small groups of about 24 students, that are tailored to specific academic areas of interest.

Besides planning engaging group activities, mentors act as a source of constant support and guidance for first-year students. 

“Programs planned by mentors are an important part of LEAP,” said Amy Morton, LEAP mentor coordinator and doctoral candidate in the College of Education. “They help create a sense of community in the pride, build friendships, support coursework and get LEAPers acclimated to their new environment — all critical for them to start feeling comfortable here, and ultimately academically successful and engaged in the University.”

Max Campbell was one of many former LEAPers who returned as a mentor, looking to pay it forward and ensure his first-year students had memorable experiences.

A mentor for one of the Mass Media prides and a junior majoring in advertising, Campbell said despite all of the study and pool sessions he organized, nothing could compare to one of the first activities. 

“I definitely think hiking Mount Nittany was the best event I had with [my pride],” Campbell said. “They were still getting to know each other and getting to know me. It was a hard hike and they complained a lot, but when we got to the top everyone was getting along and having a good time.”

Jacob Hatfield, a junior and mentor for the American Life through Language, Literature and Film pride, said it was exciting to organize a program called “Consent is Sexy” with other prides.

“It involves basically informing students about consensual sex,” Hatfield said. “If we can inform our LEAPers about it now, then they’ll be able to influence others in a positive way.”

Though Olivia Christman, a mentor for the Human Development and Families pride, wasn’t part of LEAP as a first-year student, participating in the Schreyer’s Honors College SHO TIME orientation program inspired her take on this leadership role.

“It has been because of my own mentors that I have never doubted my decision to come here, and I fall more and more in love with Penn State every day,” Christman, a senior majoring in biobehavioral health, said. “I wanted to share that same love and my experiences with other students, hopefully helping them to feel part of the Penn State family. Penn State is such an amazing place to be — I want everyone to believe that they belong here, and that they each have their own place here.”

Christman said she is proud of what her first-year students were able to accomplish in just six weeks on campus and views herself as their No. 1 fan.

“I always told them ‘I’m here for you,’ and I genuinely meant that,” she said. “I did whatever I could for them so that they could have the best summer possible.”

Having just completed LEAP as a first-year student, Janet Pickering said she is no longer a “clueless” freshman and highly recommends the program for incoming students.

Pickering, who was part of the Animal Health and Biomedical Sciences pride, said attending “AgHour” hosted by the College of Agricultural Sciences, among other LEAP events, gave her a “leg up” in learning about available resources.

“Being on campus with 46,000 other students would've made transitioning to campus more difficult,” said Pickering, who plans to major in veterinary and biomedical sciences. “Instead, I got a smaller group setting and got to be lost with a bunch of freshmen in the same classes with me. Now, I have a group of friends for fall before everyone else, and I can come to fall with the confidence that others won't have.”

To learn more about LEAP, and similar programs, including the Student Transitional Experiences Program for students making the junior year transition to University Park, visit the Office for Summer Session website at

The Office for Summer Session is part of Penn State Undergraduate Education, the academic administrative unit that provides leadership and coordination for University-wide programs and initiatives in support of undergraduate teaching and learning at Penn State. Learn more about Undergraduate Education at

Last Updated October 04, 2016