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Faculty mentors connect virtually with first-year students

Campus Life Faculty Aug 3, 2020
A red IU trident in a white box on a red background
A red IU trident in a white box on a red background

KOKOMO, Ind. – Starting college can be a nerve-wracking experience in a normal year — and 2020 has been anything but normal.

With new student orientation moved online because of the Covid-19 pandemic, many of Indiana University Kokomo’s incoming students will not have spent much time on campus or met any professors before classes start.

That’s where faculty have stepped in.

An online mentoring program has placed faculty virtually in student’s homes to offer a listening ear, answer questions, and provide a connection to campus. They have been hosting regular Zoom meetings with small groups through the summer, preparing them to start college on the right foot.

“They have a lot of nervousness about just going to college in general, let alone with Covid-19 on top of it,” said Stephanie Pratt, clinical assistant professor of nursing, who is one of nine faculty members serving as mentors. “This is helping ease some of that nervousness.”

It also provides a transition for students between high school and college.

“Some students said based on how the pandemic affected their transition from high school, it didn’t feel like there was a finale to it,” said Joseph Waters, clinical assistant professor of psychology. “They’re missing some of those milestones. They really didn’t have the feeling of being done with high school, and now they’re looking at college starting.”

Christina Downey, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and student success, said the program offers students an opportunity for a more in-depth experience.

“We know these students might be a little extra nervous about college, or they might feel lonely and isolated because of the pandemic,” she said. “We want to do anything we can to help them feel comfortable and stick with college, and not be scared as we get started.”

Email invitations were sent to all incoming students, and nearly 100 accepted and were placed in groups.

While they’ve talked about traditional pre-college topics such as time management, organization, finding resources on campus, and how to get involved in activities, they find making connections with people they will see on campus to be one of the greatest benefits.

In a group led by Christine Rassel, clinical assistant professor of radiologic science, students have exchanged phone numbers and texted each other, so they already will know others on campus when classes start.

“They’ve already made some of those connections with people they might not have known otherwise,” she said, adding that it’s reassuring to students to be familiar with a faculty member — even if they won’t have him or her as an instructor. None of the students in her group are in her program, but at least one wants to meet in person after classes start.

“This program bridges the gap between students and faculty, even if it’s just one of us,” she said. “That one connection with a faculty member is important, because it makes us less scary.”

Rassel noted that some students are wary of any remote learning, because of their experience when their high schools had to switch to that format with very little time to prepare. The fall semester includes in-person and hybrid, as well as online classes. She encourages students to have an open mind.

“Several of our professors have taught online before this year, so they know how to provide high-quality education in that format,” she said.

For other students, just the opportunity to talk to others about their shared experience finishing high school during a pandemic has been valuable, said Andrew McFarland, associate professor of history.

“We’ve talked through what happened this spring and summer, and I hope that’s helped them,” he said. “We’ve discussed the experiences they’ve had, and how that’s going to transition into their college experience, and how college is going to be different for them as a generation.”

Education is KEY at Indiana University Kokomo.

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More pictures from the opening reception here.
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