Simmons administration and first year students are having to find new ways to create social connections for incoming students due to the online format of the fall 2020 semester.
Administrators at Simmons have been trying to help create social connections among the first year class. The university is currently hiring 10 to 12 students across grade levels to serve as first year mentors to help facilitate more organic social connections, according to Dean of First Year Students, Alicia LaPolla.
“A lot of what happens in the first year is someone asks you to go to the dining hall, and it’s not that you care about dinner, it’s that you care about walking with someone to the dining hall. So a lot of what the first year mentors will be doing are finding ways to make those moments happen virtually,” said LaPolla.
Arlene Urbina, a first year from Inglewood, California said she has been meeting people through social media. Though she is worried about whether her internet connections will translate well to in-person friendships.
“It’s definitely something where I have to push myself to be a little bit more outgoing and actually make an effort to meet people,” said Urbina.
Soccer player and first year Olivia Hewitt has connected with her teammates through video chat. She said all the players were assigned to small groups of students from all grade levels and they try to Facetime at least once a week. Hewitt, a South Windsor, Connecticut native, said she has enjoyed the ability to “have someone to talk to in the same situation.”
First year Victoria LaVelle of Webster, Massachusetts said one reason she chose Simmons was to meet fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community. However, LaVelle has yet to start making connections within her community. “I feel like once we start classes my interest in a social connection with somebody will spark up,” said LaVelle.
This week, Simmons is hosting ‘Build Your Community Week’ to give first years a chance to meet with different affinity groups on campus. This includes an LGBTQIA student meet and greet, a first generation college student meet and greet, as well as meetings with the Black Student Organization, Organización Latinoamericana, the Asian Student Association, and the Multicultural International Student Organization.
Along with the new mentor program and “Build Your Community Week,” LaPolla said Simmons has been creating virtual social events and a new program called “First-year Fridays” to help students transition into university life through socializing, discussions on university resources, and advice on academics. But LaVelle said she hasn’t participated in many of the virtual events because she feels awkward with online interactions, though she noted it is something she has to get used to.
Urbina, LaVelle, and Hewitt all said they appreciated the amount of events Simmons is holding to help students begin to socialize, and though they are disappointed by the online format of Simmons this fall, they feel that Simmons chose to go online for the greater good of the student body.