Celebrating 30 Years of Excellence

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Peer Advising

Graduate Student Advisors

The mission of the Peer Advising Group is to create a comfortable community to discuss and address concerns of first and second year PMB graduate students.

We provide ongoing advice as students navigate common and unique issues faced in the transition to graduate school. We facilitate connections with senior PMB graduate students and provide access to the myriad of campus and community resources to help new students face and resolve their concerns in a confidential and personalized manner.


The Peer Advising Group currently consists of eight graduate students representing both plant biology and microbiology doctoral programs.

  • Rita McCall 2nd (she/her/hers) - MB
  • Becky Procknow (she/her/hers) - MB
  • Zoila Alvarez-Aponte (she/her/hers) - MB
  • Sunnyjoy Dupuis (sher/her/hers) - MB
  • Lorenzo Washington (he/him/his) - PB
  • Kelsey Hern (she/her/hers) - MB
  • Helen Liu (she/her/hers) - PB
  • Rebecca Tarnopol (she/her/hers) - MB
  • Christine Qabar (she/her/hers) -  MB
  • Gabriella Benko (she/her/hers) - MB

MB=microbiology; PB=plant biology

The group is advised and coordinated by Professor Arash Komeili and Graduate Adviser Lyn Rivera.

The Graduate Student Peer Advising Group is not a replacement for faculty or staff advising, but rather a supplement. While it is important for a student to have a faculty mentor and staff adviser to provide guidance throughout the educational experience and doctoral training, peers can contribute to student success in ways that complement faculty/staff advising services.

The advantages of utilizing peer advising as a component in academic advising models include flexibility in delivery methods, peer-to-peer interaction and development of peer advisers. Peers may be better equipped to address certain aspects of advising than faculty mentors or staff members who serve as advisers. Peer advisers view the institution through a different lens than do faculty/staff and are more familiar with the graduate student experience. Likewise, peers can better relate to students’ concerns, because they likely went through the same experiences. Because of their ability to relate, peer advisers can form personal connections with other students and facilitate peer interactions.


First and second-year graduate students are encouraged to approach the graduate student peer advising group with any issues they would like to discuss. For some concerns, students may feel most comfortable when discussions with Peer Advisers remain confidential and such discussions are welcome. The Peer Advisers have received training in mentoring from Counseling and Psychological Services and are respectful of student confidentiality. However, there may be occasions when a problem arises that the peer adviser is not equipped to deal with. On these occasions, the peer adviser should discuss options with the student, for example, consulting someone inside or outside of the department for additional advice. It is up to the student to decide if it's OK for the peer adviser to share any identifying or situational information with any person being consulted.

Peer advisers should feel free to describe situations (in a general manner in order to get advice) to:

  • Head graduate advisers
  • Staff in the PMB Graduate Office
  • University Health Services
  • Other peer advisers
  • Head graduate advisers and staff in the PMB Graduate Office and/or University Health Services are here to support all students, including peer advisers. Peer advisers have a responsibility to report any information regarding potential harm to a student or potential harm to others by a student. If a student talks about harm to self or others the peer adviser should consult with Professor Arash Komeili, or Rocio Sanchez in the PMB Graduate Office. If the danger appears imminent, the peer adviser may consult first with Counseling and Psychological Services. 

Benefits and Roles for Peer Advisors


  • Develop valuable communication skills and confidence speaking in front of others
  • Peer advisers develop skills such as leadership, time management, and organization
  • Be recognized as a student leader and positive role model
  • Gain a greater understanding of PMB and University-wide policies
  • Serve as a vital resource to your peers and enrich the lives' of others
  • Enhance your resume and develop important professional skills


  • Engage in PMB recruitment and retention programs
  • Provide information about PMB and university requirements, policies, and procedures
  • Make referrals to a wide cariety of campus services and resources
  • Provide general information about career services and career options
  • Participate or lead workshops in PMB
  • Participate in PMB Orientation Day and Department and/or GGM (Graduate Group in Microbiology) retreat
  • Respond to student emails
  • Liaise with PMB, GGM or other campus student groups and departmental committee representatives
  • Commit to one or two years of peer advising

Contact Us

Graduate student peer advisers are available via email and in-person. To contact a peer adviser please send an email to any of the peer advisers listed below. We will get back to you right away.

Meet Your Peer Mentors

Rita McCall (she/her/hers)
2nd Year, Microbiology, Cox Lab

Zoila Alvarez-Zponte (she/her/hers)
Year, Microbiology, Taga Lab
Sunnyjoy Dupuis (she/her/hers)
Year, Microbiology, Merchant Lab
Helen Liu
2nd Year, Plant, Merchant Lab
Kelsey Hern (she/her/hers)
Year, Microbiology, Arkin Lab
Rebecca Tarnopol 
Year,  Microbiology, Whiteman Lab
Lorenzo Washington (he/him his)
2nd Year, Plant Biology, Scheller Lab
Christine Qabar (she/her/hers)
Year, Microbiology, Cox Lab

Gabriella Benko (she/her/hers)

Year, Microbiology, Niyogi Lab


Becky Procknow (she/her/hers)
Microbiology, Taga Lab




Graduate Adviser
Lyn Rivera
Head Graduate Adviser