Elon 101 teaching assistants (TAs) are often some of the first upperclassmen at Elon University to come into contact with new students.

On paper, the TA serves only as an assistant to the faculty or staff member instructor and explains parts of Elon the instructor isn’t familiar with. But the TA should take a more interactive role that allows him or her to better engage new students and prepare them for life at Elon both inside and outside the classroom.

It is not enough to merely assist. TAs must develop collaborative teaching partnerships with their supervising instructors in order to adequately prepare new students for academic and social life at Elon.

A TA’s most important role is that of role model and peer mentor to new students. Director of Elon 101 Brandy Propst said a TA, as a type of peer mentor, is effective in providing new students with peer support, acclimating them to campus and helping them with academic and social integration. She also said peer mentors, in this case TAs, help students become more invested in the larger campus community and assist in student retention.

By taking greater roles in the planning and leading of Elon 101 courses, TAs can build stronger, more supportive relationships with new students and encourage them to reach out in the event of questions or crises.

While the faculty or staff instructor is able to provide information on academic expectations, a TA can explain meal plans, campus events and residence halls — things new students know little about.

Nearly all incoming students — more than 98 percent — take Elon 101 their first year on campus, Propst said. The course is a continuation of new student orientation that serves as an introduction to life at Elon and explains such topics as the Honor Code, academic expectations and life on campus to new students.

“The primary goal of Elon 101 is to equip students with academic advising goals,” said Academic Advising Fellow Audra Pretty.

Over the semester-long seminar course, new students, their instructor and their TA go over coursework and create a graduation plan. The Elon 101 instructor, who also serves as the new students’ academic adviser until they declare a major, trains students to work with and follow these plans over the course of their college careers.

The TA is particularly useful in these situations because most instructors don’t know how to use tools such as OnTrack, which new students will use to register for courses, view their degree audits and apply for on-campus housing. The TA is able to show new students how to use tools and websites that faculty and staff members are unfamiliar with and offer advice and tips.

Elon 101 instructors need to recognize that their student TAs have different areas of knowledge and allow them to apply this knowledge during class meetings. With instructor assistance, TAs will be able to take on more responsibility for the students in their Elon 101 class and make guiding these students through their transition into college a priority.

By adopting a form of co-teaching, at least in practice, Elon 101 instructors and their TAs can play to their respective strengths in order to better prepare new students for the years ahead and to make Elon 101 a more effective and satisfying experience for everyone involved.