Two Westhampton College Government Association members started a mentoring program that partners University of Richmond undergraduates with School of Continuing Studies students.
Six undergraduates and nine SCS students signed up for the program - SCS/Undergrad Connections - with the hope of bridging the gap between the different schools on campus, Class of 2011 Senator Elizabeth Hailand said.
Hailand and sophomore Asha Phadke, WCGA class of 2012 president, were inspired by the idea at Spider Senate Saturday, where they met with student groups and the Richmond College Student Government Association to discuss campus initiatives, student concerns and the continued implementation of President Edward Ayers' strategic plan.
Hailand sat at a table with an SCS member and the topic of discussion turned to the strategic plan's mission of cross-school bonding.
"We talked about how it would be nice for the SCS students to form bonds with the rest of the campus so that they could actually have that pride of being a Spider and a Richmond student," Hailand said.
It was that conversation from which the idea of SCS/Undergrad Connections grew. Hailand took it on as a special WCGA assignment and collaborated with Phadke and SCS Student Government Association's President Karen O'Connell to implement the program.
Hailand and Phadke were interested in increasing the ties between the SCS and undergraduate programs as a way to help the SCS students feel included in the community.
A SCS student discussed the feelings of disconnect that they often had with the university at large because of their unconventional status as a student, Hailand said.
"These people are coming back to school after however many years of having a break," Hailand said, "and re-acclimating themselves to a college campus."
SCS students generally take classes part-time and live in downtown Richmond with their families, Phadke said.
"I think that living on the campus we learn everything firsthand," she said. "But SCS students don't always know what the university has to offer - the resources that are available - such as certain features of the library, the speech and writing center."
Hailand explained how intimidating the campus could be.
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"Not only are they new students having to familiarize themselves," Hailand said, "[but] they are also adults, so people don't really know why they're here. It's extremely overwhelming to walk onto a college campus."
Hailand offered examples of why SCS students chose to join the SCS/Undergrad Connections program: desire to get more familiarized with the campus, hope of getting a real tour of the campus, overall enhancement of university life and desire to learn the ropes of the campus.
"We are the mentors in this situation," Phadke said.
This is the pilot semester of the program, and it will focus on providing SCS students with information about the resources that are available to them.
The hope is that the undergraduates will help the SCS students readjust to life as a college student, as well as provide them with all the available resources on campus, including useful study tips and shortcuts, Hailand said.
Hailand and Phadke originally identified mentorship, social events and information on campus connections as the three components of the program they wanted to develop.
The mentorship component pairs an undergraduate with an SCS student so that through the relationship they can use the other as a resource, Hailand said. As the program grows, more social events will be incorporated.
"Some of the ideas we came up with for next semester include a family cookie social around Valentine's Day, a community service event such as cleaning up a park at the James River, an evening cocktail hour and involvement with the annual Bellis Fest," Hailand said.
Phadke mentioned the benefits of the program for undergraduates.
"A lot of undergrads feel stuck in the bubble," she said. "Connecting with SCS students is a nice way to get to know the outside community. A lot of people don't even know what's going on where we live - in the city of Richmond."
Phadke also emphasized the importance of building relationships with people of different generations.
"We don't get very much exposure to people who are older than us during our four years," she said. "It's refreshing to build relationships with someone who has more life experience than you do."
For this reason, SCS/Undergrad Connections pairs students with similar interests.
If an SCS student is a lawyer and an undergraduate student wants to be a lawyer, the program pairs them up, Phadke said.
The program started off small, so each undergraduate was paired with one or two SCS students.
"Right now people haven't heard of the program at all," Phadke said. "But I think it will really start to grow - hopefully by word of mouth as people tell their friends how rewarding it is."
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Hardy firstname.lastname@example.org.
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