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Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Building communities and mentorship: First-Year Aggie Connections

GENESIA TING / AGGIE

Program provides incoming students with support, role models

This past fall, Jessica Chalfin, a second-year animal science major, was matched to mentor a group named #Flawless, comprised of students with a common interest in Beyoncé. This group was a part of First Year Aggie Connections (FYAC), a program that launched during Fall Quarter of 2016 to provide an inclusive environment for students to bond over shared interests and discuss pop culture with one another.

FYAC supports new students, both freshman and transfer, as they transition into life at UC Davis.

“Because UC Davis is this big research university, it is really hard to transition,” said Julianne Smith, FYAC coordinator. “[UC Davis] is very different from any community college [and] is very different from high school, so FYAC is really here to help support students academically and socially as they adjust.”

At their summer orientation, incoming students learn about the program and are then able to register for a connection — a themed group of 25 students. During Fall Quarter, FYAC offered about 150 connections with different themes. Some previous connections offered include the “Get Your Board Game On” connection, the “How to Adult” connection, the “Social Justice” connection and many more.

“Each connection has a different theme or shared interest,” Smith said. “Some themes are academic and some themes are more co-curricular.”

Some connections are offered for credit and can be registered for through schedule builder. Most other connections are not for credit and can be registered for through the Student Academic Success Center website. Usually, each connection meets weekly for one quarter to hold discussions and activities related to their theme. Connections for credit account for attendance while connections that are not for credit are completely voluntary.

All connections hold discussions about topics like transitioning to the campus, advising resources, exploring majors and careers, health and wellness and more.

“No matter if you’re in a for-credit or not-for-credit connection, no matter what your theme is, you talk about these key important topics that we know as staff members [are] really important for students to understand as they adjust to life here,” Smith said.

Each connection is facilitated by a professional staff or faculty member and is focused heavily on student life, which makes it different from other programs or clubs on campus.

“You’re really talking about how to balance your academic life with your social life with other things going on and how to be a successful student here — that’s the point of all these meetings,” Smith said. “Being in a connection means talking a lot about campus culture and talking about the transition in that setting.”

The staff and faculty members that facilitate connections propose the theme for their specific connection.

“They propose a theme — so [it’s] something they feel is missing or needed, or something they just feel passionate about,” Smith said.

FYAC also hires peer mentors for each connection. Though they may not participate in all of the connection activities, peer mentors focus on planning events to connect the students outside the program.

“Based off the big group of peer mentors that we’re hiring now, we do a matching process that kind of looks like an NFL draft or something,” Smith said. “We try to match a peer mentor to a connection that we think will be a good fit based on interest or major or anything like that.”

Chaflin applied to be a peer mentor after she spent her first year in a career discovery connection. Chaflin was also matched to mentor a freshman cohort connection in the College of Biological Sciences during Winter and Spring Quarters.

“It’s really great to be a peer mentor because we’re kind of the ones setting up all the activities [and trying] to get people together,” Chaflin said. “There’s been good and bad — it’s kind of hard to get people to go out to events, but […] our goal [is] to get people oriented with the school and meet more people.”

Emmanuela Cao, a third-year human development major, is also a peer mentor for a the freshman cohort connection in the College of Biological Sciences. Cao didn’t have a smooth transition into college during her freshman year as a first-generation college student. After hearing about this program through Facebook, Cao applied to become a peer mentor.

This program has been a learning process for myself,” Cao said. “Being a mentor has enhanced my communication skills with peers and faculty and has helped me develop as a leader. It’s been rewarding getting to know these students on a personal level and having some sort of positive impact on them, even if it’s the slightest one.”

Cao usually plans around two to three events per quarter that take place without a facilitator. Past events for her connection students have included trips to the Arboretum, the Davis Farmers’ Market and the Manetti-Shrem Museum.

Like Chaflin, Kiara Cuevas, a second-year animal science major, was in the Creative Discovery connection her freshman year. However, Cuevas also joined another club in which she had the opportunity to meet older students and ask them questions about campus life. These relationships inspired her to become a peer mentor.

“I thought being able to be that person for freshman is really important because that’s what I wanted and what I got when I was a freshman,” Cuevas said.

According to Smith, a lot of students who were in connections their freshman year are coming back and applying to be peer mentors. From these students and other participants, FYAC has received a lot of positive feedback.

“We wanted to create this small group environment for every student who wants it,” Smith said. “[We want them] to be able to have a community, to have a staff member they can ask questions to [and] to have a peer they can ask questions [to] and have fun with.”

Written by: Fatima Siddiqui  – features@theaggie.org

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