New mentoring program connects undergraduate and non-traditional students
June 28, 2010
Campus typically becomes a familiar home for undergraduate students — they know how to navigate bookstore lines and find study spots, and whom to go to if they need help. But for School of Continuing Studies students, it’s not always so clear. A new program that connects traditional undergrads with SCS students hopes to change that.
The idea for the program developed when Chris Riddick, C’10, found himself at a table with undergraduate leaders last fall. He shared his perspective that SCS students don’t always feel like they are part of the campus community.
Riddick, a software engineer, chose the University of Richmond not only for its academic standards, but also for the college experience — he wanted to "become an integral part of the school and campus" rather than simply attend classes. But once on campus, he wasn't sure how to get involved, or how to get as much as he desired out of the college experience.
Overall student experience and connectedness are things Elizabeth Hailand, ’11, takes seriously — she credits UR’s sense of community with shaping her positive experience over the past three years at Richmond. When she heard that SCS students didn’t always share this experience, she set about facilitating conversations on how to address these challenges.
A cross-campus group, including staff and student leaders from SCS and Westhampton College, identified the need to develop relationships between SCS students and those at the University’s other schools. Doing so, Hailand says, will “foster a more open and interactive atmosphere between the schools as a whole.”
SCS student government president Karren O’Connell says that connecting SCS students with traditional undergraduates — who live, work, and attend events on campus — is a perfect way to address the concerns that she often hears as a student leader.
“Our students have a lot of fears when they come back to school — they’re not sure how to get started, not sure if they can do it. Some have never been on a college campus,” says O’Connell. “Who better to connect these students to campus than the people who live here?”
They designed the new mentoring program, SCS/Undergraduate Connections, to benefit both groups. In addition to matching student pairs, they hope to hold social and volunteer events for mentoring pairs and their families. SCS students will also be invited to bring their families to campus traditions like Trick or Treat Street.
"This gets undergrads and SCS students not only working and interacting together, but also gets the SCS students more involved in some of the traditionally undergraduate annual events," says Hailand.
The program also capitalizes on the backgrounds and experiences of older students who have worked in the Richmond area for years and who are key members of the area’s professional and social communities.
Hailand stresses that her peers can greatly benefit from co-mentoring such students. “As undergraduates, we have so much to learn outside of what is taught in the classroom,” she says, "and relatively frequent conversation and interaction with someone older and more experienced than us could contribute greatly to that learning."
Sharing experiences with people from diverse backgrounds is refreshing, but also crucial, Hailand says. "If we graduate only feeling comfortable with people who think like us, approach things like us, and problem solve like us, we will be at a great disadvantage."