Building an equitable future
“Students arrive at Orientation eager and anxious about registering for classes. Some think they know exactly what they want to take; others have no idea,” Morash said.
“With team advising, first-year students share their interests with their student advisers, who can suggest courses in related fields or faculty with specific areas of expertise. New students meet with their staff advisers, who can also offer suggestions and answer logistical questions like how to navigate the registration process or how to plan a balanced weekly schedule. This then prepares first-year students to have informed, meaningful conversations with their career and faculty advisers to plan what their academic experience might look like.”
Having career and faculty advisers working in tandem ensures career planning is embedded in the entire four-year experience.
“We help students identify their interests and tailor their liberal arts experience with the academic pursuits, clubs and leadership opportunities, off-campus learning, internships, and other professional development that will help them develop the skills they need to reach their goals,” said Cheryl Banker, Conn’s pre-business adviser and senior associate director of the Hale Center for Career Development.
Orientation is also about helping students get acquainted with the campus, co-curricular opportunities and—importantly—each other.
“Social activities can be overwhelming for new students,” said Geoff Norbert, assistant dean of student engagement and new programs. “So our student advisers accompany new students to orientation events, and then during the year, the advising teams plan social events that correlate with the First-Year Seminar courses.”
Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Luis Gonzalez has several such events planned for his first-year seminar, “Shot in Spanish,” which explores issues of history, national identity, gender and social class in Spanish-language films. The course is taught entirely in Spanish, and his advising team includes Equity and Inclusion Program Coordinator Dulmarie Irizarry, whose first language is Spanish, and three student advisers who are studying Spanish.
“I think we have put together an amazing team of people all related to Spanish in different ways,” Gonzalez said. “We might have lunch at the Spanish table or at Mañana Café. We will be seeing Spanish-language films, and we plan to go to the theater a couple of times and then discuss the play in Spanish.”
Because students are grouped into first-year seminars based on a common interest, the course topic can serve as an icebreaker, says Lexi Rauth ’20, a former student adviser who now serves as a student adviser coordinator.
“Your fellow seminar students become the first people you socialize with, your first friends,” she said.
Advising teams also work closely with students to help them identify co-curricular activities that will help them connect with others and support learning and career goals.
“We connect students from the get-go,” said Norbert. “Our goal is to get them to find at least one activity—our student activities are so diverse that there really is something for everyone, from club sports to running our coffee shops.”
Kuzoe-Jones said he got involved early with Umoja: The Black Student Union, the Student Activities Committee and Sprout, the student-run organic garden.
“Clubs and activities are a great way to meet new people. You don’t have to be an extrovert; people will gravitate to you.”
Staff advisers, who know the campus and the community, can be an important resource, especially for students who might otherwise struggle to find their place. In her four years as a faculty adviser, Ann Schenk, the administrative assistant for the Roth Writing Center, has helped students connect with community organizations, access tutoring and academic support services, start new clubs, and even overcome homesickness.
“There are certain things a faculty member might not be able to help with, or students might not feel comfortable sharing with faculty or their peers, and that’s where I come in,” Schenk says.
“I’ve had students who are feeling overwhelmed who just want to come in my office and clear their heads. I’ve had students who were nervous about meeting with deans and wanted me to come along for support. It’s about having someone else you can go to who isn’t a teacher or peer.”
Those interpersonal relationships can be instrumental in helping students reach their full potential at Conn and graduate ready to lead meaningful lives, said Kuzoe-Jones.
“Having that support team right when you come in makes the transition into your first year a lot easier.”