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Drew U Juniors, Seniors Lend Advice to First-Year Students

Four upperclass students answered the call when first-year students had questions, concerns

September 2020 – With a very different introduction to college life than Drew University’s freshest faces expected, the importance of the first-year seminar has only increased in fall 2020.

Drew’s seminars designed especially for first-year students—known as DSEMs—typically focus on building critical thinking, writing and other academic skills.

This semester, however, Professor Sarah Abramowitz, who teaches the DSEM course “Four Out of Five Drew Students Recommend this Seminar: Evaluating Survey Research,” heard concerns from her students about the social side of college life amid a semester of remote learning.

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Abramowitz's virtual classroom.

So, along with her DSEM Writing Fellow, Kyara Beltran C’23, Abramowitz quickly found four Drew upperclass students—Fodie Koita C’21, Tess Needham C’22, Valentina Rojas C’21, and Bri Rooks C’22—who were happy to speak to her seminar students.

The four students Zoomed into a class meeting and fielded questions on topics like dorm living, academic advice, food in The Commons, activities and clubs, and what campus is like on the weekends.

“People tend to treat first-years like they are still in high school and sugarcoat,” said Koita. “I tried to keep it real and was open and honest with them. I’m coming from a senior and RA perspective, and as someone who had those first-year anxieties and nerves they’re facing.”

“I talked about research opportunities and emphasized attending office hours just to introduce themselves and form what could be a very valuable and enriching bond,” said Needham, who also spoke about the importance of going the extra mile to build connections through social media while virtual.

“We’re at a point in our lives where we live off of having friends and being social,” said Needham. “We’re all learning how to navigate that virtually.” Her suggestion led to many students connecting on Instagram.

The four upperclass students are each residing on campus this semester under travel, safety and research exemptions, and were able to provide virtual tours of their dorm rooms.

The experience and the lessons learned were not lost on the first-year students asking the questions.

“It was really important to hear from some of the upperclassmen because it made me feel like I am truly a part of the Drew community,” said Ange Wunderle C’24.

"I am very grateful to go to a school that is dedicated to making this semester as normal as it can be considering the restrictions."

“While Drew has been doing an immense amount of work to get us involved in activities and connect us to college virtually, there is a different level of connection when you are having a conversation with fellow students. It confirmed my idea that Drew is a tight-knit community that values the connections between students and faculty.”

“Not only do I have a better idea of life on campus, but I learned more about all the various opportunities at Drew,” added Faith Sirdashney C’24.

“From the variety of classes, new clubs and activities, to volunteer and job positions all over campus, there is so much to do at Drew and I cannot wait.”

“We were all first-years at one point and know how scary and intimidating the process can be, so anything that can make this adjustment easier is so important,” said Rooks, a junior.

The first-year students clearly agreed.

“I think everyone involved in Drew’s community has made an incredible effort to adjust to this way of learning and connecting,” said Wunderle. “I am very grateful to go to a school that is dedicated to making this semester as normal as it can be considering the restrictions.”

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