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Ambassadors of Change: Experiences of Peer Mentors Supporting Students with Intellectual Disability at College

Megan M. Griffin, Maria P. Mello, Kelsey A. Samples, Erik W. Carter, & Robert M. Hodapp

More students with intellectual disability (ID) are going to college than ever before, with over 150 programs currently available across the United States (Grigal & Hart, 2010). Many of these programs enlist the help of peers who support students with ID as they participate in college life. Despite the recent expansion of inclusive postsecondary educational programs, little research has explored the experiences of the peers who volunteer to support students with ID in these programs. Although little is known about the experiences of college-age peer supports, various studies have investigated peermediated interventions among high school students. The related literature among college students focuses on volunteerism and service learning in general, but not on activities aimed at supporting students with disabilities. The present study focuses on the experiences of peers who support participants in the Next Steps program at Vanderbilt, a 2-year certificate program for students with ID. These peer mentors (or AmbassaDores, a play on the Vanderbilt mascot the Commodores) support students with ID in multiple aspects of their college experience. The goals of this study are to investigate why AmbassaDores volunteer, what their experiences are like, and the impact of their involvement.

Experienced AmbassaDores were recruited for participation in this study at an orientation event at the beginning of the academic year, as well as through e-mail invitations. To date, 16 AmbassaDores have participated. The current study employs a mixed-methods approach; each participant was asked to participate in a semistructured interview and to complete two written measures. The first, a satisfaction survey, asked participants to answer questions regarding their satisfaction with their experience as an AmbassaDore. The second, the Volunteer Functions Inventory (VFI), is a validated instrument used elsewhere to study the motivations of college-age volunteers (Clary et al., 1998). Prior to the interview, all peers provided consent and received a gift card for their participation. Interviews were conducted individually and were audio-recorded. After the interview, the participants independently completed the Satisfaction Survey and VFI. The VFI addresses six different domains.

Preliminary Results
Participants rated the Values domain highest, followed by the Understand domain; the lowest-rated was the Social domain.


Mean (SD)

Career 25.31 (6.19) Social 18.31 (6.52) Values 33.31 (1.99) Understand 32.13 (2.42) Enhance 25.00 (6.84) Protect 21.63 (5.54) Total Score 155.69 (17.15) Thus, the participants in this sample are primarily motivated
by both altruistic reasons, and by a desire to gain a new, fuller view of the world and the experiences of others. In future analyses, we will compare findings within this sample, as well as across other samples. Additionally, our qualitative analyses will focus on understanding common themes emerging across participant interviews.

Clary, E. G., Ridge, R. D., Stukas, A. A., Snyder, M. R. T., Copeland, J., Haugen, J., & Miene, P. (1998). Understanding and assessing the motivations of volunteers: A functional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1516-1530. Grigal, M., & Hart, D. (2010). Think College. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Career Social Values Understand

Do you think students with ID could participate in these activities at Vanderbilt, with help if needed? Taking classes Eating meals on campus Participating in clubs Living in dorm rooms Playing intramural sports Using the libraries

Enhance Protect

Function of Volunteering Relates to receiving career-related benefits Relates to relationships with others or perceptions of others Relates to expressing personal values (e.g., altruism) Related to accessing learning experiences Related to maintaining or enhancing positive affect Related to reducing the impact of negative experiences/emotions

Each VFI item uses a Likert-scale rating (1 = strongly disagree/not at all important or accurate; 7 = strongly agree/ very important or accurate). For each domain, 5 items were summed, for a total possible of 35 points.