Connecting New Students to the BU Community
First Year Conversations project urges faculty, staff to reach out for meaningful chats
This fall has been an adjustment for everyone, and that especially holds true for first year students who are figuring out their place in the community. Social distancing has made it more challenging to meet people, and the combination of hybrid and in-person classes probably means students haven’t had much face time with their professors.
Enter the First Year Conversations project. The goal of the new initiative is to make sure that every first-year student has at least two meaningful interactions—virtual or in person—outside of class with a faculty member or a staff member. Spearheaded by BU’s Retention and Student Success Committee and the Undergraduate Programs Working Group, the project aims to help students form a network of faculty and staff supporting them, says Christine McGuire, vice president and associate provost for enrollment and student administration, one of the project organizers. Engagement with the campus community in the first year of college is a key component of student well-being and success, she says.
The project, which launched this month, is encouraging staff and faculty across campus to record when they have had a substantive conversation with students; these individuals might include professional and faculty advisors and and staff in departments like the University Service Center, the Educational Resource Center, Financial Assistance, Athletics, Residence Life, Global Programs, and the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground. This is a full campus effort, and any staff member is encouraged to log in a connection made with a first-year student.
“We are not seeking to learn the details of the conversation,” McGuire says. “Further, faculty and staff should only log the more substantive conversations, not brief or more routine informational and transactional interactions that students have with faculty and staff.” Its organizers also hope that by tracking these interactions, it will help them understand where connections are being made.
The project will collect information throughout the fall semester. When a faculty or staff member has a meaningful interaction with a first-year student, they are asked to log the conversation on the Faculty/Staff Link (find directions at the end of this story).
“Despite the planned outreach, students should also feel empowered to seek out help if they need it,” says McGuire. “This is an unusual time to start college. The transition is always a challenge, and that is certainly true this year. We want to ensure that students are supported as they begin their BU career.”
“We know that BU is a big place,” says Suzanne Kennedy, associate provost for undergraduate affairs, ad interim, who also helped spearhead the effort. “We want to make it a little bit smaller, one conversation at a time.”
Faculty and staff members will see a new resource in the Faculty/Staff Link called “First Year Conversations,” where they can participate in, and access information about, the project.