Support for new students helps them thrive in civil and environmental engineering

For University of Delaware Honors environmental engineering student Megan Bittle, pursuing a challenging major while navigating college life during a global pandemic has not always been an easy task. That’s why she felt it was important to sign up as a mentor with the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s new peer mentorship program, where she could offer support to younger students who are getting their first taste of life on campus this fall.

“When I was a freshman, it would have been nice to have a mentor to talk to and ask questions,” said Bittle, 20, who is from Pennsylvania. “Engineering is hard, and sometimes you need a bit of encouragement and to hear that other people have been through it, struggled through it and gotten through it.”

Even in pre-pandemic times, the transition to college can be difficult for many students leaving home for the first time. With everyone forced away from in-person learning and socialization, faculty knew that having an extra support system specifically for civil and environmental engineering students could only boost their chances of success.

“We’re really hoping as we expand that peers realize they’re building a network and learning to communicate with others,” said program co-creator Monique Head, who also serves as the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering’s (CEE) associate chair and associate professor. “Students don’t get to know what really goes on in the day-to-day life of an engineer unless they talk to one.”

The program began slowly during the pandemic, but has expanded this school year to include professionals as mentors to students. It also engaged alumni like Anthony Cicamore, Class of 2014, and Karen Sawka, Class of 1990, who offered experienced insight on the benefits of mentoring in mid-September during one of the program’s four fall events.

Head joined forces with Sarah Palmer, CEE’s undergraduate academic adviser, to create this new way for students to connect with their department and acclimate to UD life as a College of Engineering undergrad. While only a handful of students participated in the program’s first year, 18 mentors and 35 mentees are diving into the 2021-22 academic year together.

“Mentoring is great in any capacity, but the pandemic highlighted the importance of folks making those connections,” Palmer said, noting that a goal is to get more industry partners involved in the program in the future.

As Bittle settles into an in-person college experience once again, she now also has an opportunity to be the helping hand she wished she had as a new engineering major. She said she has also found a friend in her mentee, Brenna Derby, who has in turn called on Bittle for advice and rushed Bittle’s sorority.

“I think any upperclassman’s experience would be very beneficial to a freshman who is struggling, confused or even lonely,” Bittle said. “It’s a good way to meet a friend and just help.”

This isn’t UD’s only peer mentoring program. The First Year Seminar Program is actively seeking student mentors for fall 2022, and the Delaware Faculty Achievement Program aims to create a supportive community for faculty. Meanwhile, the also new College of Arts and Sciences Mentor Collective program offers match-ups that provide upperclassmen with alumni guidance as they approach graduation.

For more information or to sign up as a mentor or mentee in the spring 2022 program, visit

| Photos courtesy of Brenna Derby and Megan Bittle |