A sense of community is crucial to student success in the Faculty of Arts & Science. That’s why smaller-scale avenues for collaboration and learning are growing in response to student needs.
Over the last four years, students who participated in the Faculty’s First-Year Learning Communities (FLCs) have consistently reported positive feedback on their experiences. In 2017-18, Professors Jennifer Campbell and Jacqueline Smith in the Department of Computer Science launched Second-Year Learning Communities (SLCs) in an effort to improve the sense of community that greets students entering their second year.
“We were concerned that some students were feeling isolated and lacked a sense of belonging,” says Campbell. “So, we started SLCs to provide an inclusive, supportive community.”
Since then, SLCs have steadily been expanding to other departments.
“Based on the FLC model, SLCs bring together small groups of second-year students who have a similar academic focus and belong to the same department,” says Jennifer Evans, learning communities coordinator in the A&S Teaching & Learning Office.
SLCs offer academic, developmental and social activities facilitated by senior students who act as peer mentors along with the guidance of faculty, staff and program alumni.
In addition to fostering a sense of community and helping students expand their personal and professional networks, SLCs also offer career exploration workshops, off-campus field trips and workshops on inclusion and diversity — all within a casual, accessible atmosphere that encourages socialization.
Fourth-year Victoria College student Marigrace Gorospe was initially a participant in the college’s FLC, after which she decided to volunteer as a peer mentor in the Pharmacology & Toxicology’s SLC. As co-president of the Pharmacology & Toxicology Students' Association, Gorospe says she “noticed a lack of community between second-year students,” and decided to propose the SLC to the department.
“What struck me most was the gratitude I received from my mentees,” says Gorospe of her peer mentorship experience. “Many of them would approach us after sessions and thank us for organizing activities or sharing our stories and advice. Students were just grateful to know that someone else was in the same boat as them.”
In 2018-19, A&S offered SLCs in the Departments of Economics, Computer Science, Psychology and the Pharmacology & Toxicology undergraduate program in the Faculty of Medicine. In 2019-20, the program will expand to five additional units: the Human Biology Program and the Departments of Geography & Planning, Cell & Systems Biology, History and Statistical Sciences.
Part of the SLCs’ goal is to counter the notion of so-called “impostor syndrome.” Campbell says students often feel like they were the last person to be admitted to the highly-competitive computer science program. “They think: ‘everyone else is better than me and knows more than me’,” she says. SLCs help students see that others in their position face similar challenges, whether academic or otherwise.
University College student Stephanie Tam, a specialist in pharmacology & toxicology who is also pursuing a minor in bioethics, says she decided to participate in an SLC “because it seemed like a good way to meet my peers and some upper-year students, as well as learn about different career paths in the field.”
Tam says a highlight of her SLC experience was a field trip to JLABS, an incubator drug development space.
“Our trip to JLABS introduced me to the idea of start-ups in the field of pharmaceuticals — there were so many different start-ups there that were all working on various aspects of drug development, whether it be integrating AI into therapeutics or using precision medicine. Seeing all those companies definitely opened up the possibility of a career in a pharmaceutical start-up for me.”
Asked whether she’d recommend the SLC to other students, Tam says, “Absolutely. This program has given me the opportunity to connect with my peers in the program as well as develop essential skills. My mentors had such an incredible wealth of knowledge and experience that it made it easy to ask them for advice or guidance. The mentors and the department are there to help you.”
Gorospe’s experience as both a peer mentor and former mentee gives her unique insight into the program’s highlights. “You take away things you didn't think you would,” she says. “Being a mentor has been one of the most fulfilling experiences of my undergraduate journey. Not only do you have fun with amazing mentees, you also develop the transferable skills that are necessary to succeed in any future career, like leadership, time management, teamwork and organizational skills. The relationships you create and the knowledge you learn can last a lifetime.”
Asked what advice she’d give to students considering participating in SLCs, Gorospe says, “Don't go in with any expectations, but be open to new things and get out of your comfort zone!”
Want to know more? Visit the A&S Learning Communities website for information on both First- and Second-Year Learning Communities.