Reanna O’Bryan began her first semester at Capital Community College in the fall of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced classes to be held virtually. She was assigned a peer mentor, who helped her connect with the college, despite the circumstances.

Her mentor asked her about how she felt taking her classes online and suggested time management skills to counteract procrastination, she says. Even though she had started taking college classes during her junior and senior years of high school, she still found the pressure of full-time college stressful, she says. She’d have multiple tabs on her screen open at once and be working on three assignments simultaneously.

Her mentor told her “to relax, take breaks and breathe,” she says. So, after her first year of college, the East Hartford resident applied for a job as a peer mentor with Achieve Hartford. “I see how helpful it was for me specifically just having someone to talk to,” she says. O’Bryan, who just turned 20, felt she could offer to other students the kind of support and encouragement, as well as practical advice, that had helped her.

She connected her mentees to tutoring offered through the academic services department. First-year students are often unaware of all the departments set up to help them, so she alerted them to services and sent reminders. She also offered to be a study buddy to one of her mentees whose grades were not where she wanted them to be. She set it up so they’d be on video-chat together, each doing their own homework.

“If I see someone else doing work, I want to be productive,” O’Bryan says. She said to her mentee, “ ‘I know college can be overwhelming. You can be honest with me. I’m also overwhelmed with college. Let’s help each other.’ ”

Like her, all of her mentees work while going to college and they talked about how daunted and intimidated they felt. She joined with other mentors to schedule group activities where the first-semester students could share, help each other and see that they’re not alone.

While she enjoyed the work, she says, she’ll earn her associate’s degree in January and will not continue mentoring at CCC. In the spring, she is continuing her education at Goodwin University to work on a bachelor’s degree in nursing.