Orientation is daunting. Let’s just put it out there and admit it. You’re asked to come to a new building, talk to new people, and attempt to navigate a new grad program. You’re surrounded by your peers, and in LIS, they’re your colleagues too. I remember being anxious before the first day of orientation a year ago. Would I make friends? Would I fit in? Would I feel too young and naive (I was fresh out of undergrad)?
Now, I’m here as a seasoned second year student, ready for a new cohort to arrive. As my friends and I were talking about the new year, we realized there was a gap between the returning students and the newbies. The second-year students I admired last year weren’t always easy to nab for a conversation. They had their own friends in the program and sometimes didn’t have the time to sit down and tell me how they got to where they were. Yet they had all this valuable knowledge, knowledge that could help my peers and I be successful. We thought there had to be a way to bridge this gap. Essentially, how do we make stronger connections between our returning and incoming students so that we can share opportunities, build relationships, and make our MLIS community stronger?
This idea grew out of a project I was a part of this past spring called GSLIS Speaks. We gathered as many students as we could, took an anonymous survey about our thoughts on the program, and held a student public-forum to discuss our concerns. These conversations and written data became two reports — one focusing on coursework for the curriculum committee and the other an overarching report for the faculty.
What we learned from this project was that students wanted more support. They felt a little lost, a little unsure, and usually pretty overwhelmed. Two years isn’t a lot of time so how do we successfully fit in all the classes, professional and volunteer experience, and best academic moments (aka the ones that happen outside the classroom)?
We help each other.
One of my peers and I met with our Dean of Student Affairs and one of our academic advisors to brainstorm ways to create a mentor program. Our idea evolved into GSLIS Guides (working title). The write up states the goal as:
As GSLIS Guides, we want to leverage the knowledge, expertise, and passion of second semester and beyond GSLIS students to help welcome and (informally) advise the new cohort.
I think the informally part is important. When you use a word like “mentor,” this is an implication of expertise. I don’t want to claim I’m an expert at navigating an LIS education, but with a year under my belt, I have learned a few things. And so by intentionally pulling together our second semester and beyond students with our new cohort:
We…create opportunities for these two groups to meet and interact. Our hope is that through these interactions, relationships are formed and as GSLIS Guides, we are able to direct new students to professors, other students with similar passions, GSLIS staff, and campus resources to help create new and exciting opportunities for everyone. We believe that when we embrace the strengths of each other and our peers, we can learn more about them, librarianship, and ourselves.
Sometimes I think what gets lost in the shuffle is that our peers are our colleagues. They have valuable experiences to bring to the table and by embracing our various strengths, we all become better professionals, together. Librarianship is more exciting when you have friends (aka your cheerleaders) by your side.
With this framework in mind, we organized a summer meeting in early August. For me, it was a great meeting because it brought together all my peers that I usually see in small groups or one-on-one, rarely all together, in a round table setting. For an hour, 15 students brainstormed, laughed, exchanged tips of our own, got to know each other better, and came up with an idea for how we can connect with the new cohort during orientation. Not only that, but we also planned a social for the night of orientation, and established some broad themed groups; people who would organize events under a category like “Crafts,” “Music,” “Movies,” “Beer,” or “Food.” In this process, we followed the three points HLS blogger Julia Ferrar wrote about peer mentorship back in 2013: showing up, sharing, and listening. As we planned ways to guide the new students, we ended up learning something new ourselves!
At least in this initial phase, the group seems to be working well. Since we are pulling from all different experiences, we hope to remove barriers our peers might have when debating if they should come to a social function or not. For example, for our Friday night social, we are going to have a group that takes the bus from the Union, so that people who would ride a bus could go together and not have to navigate the system alone. To identify ourselves at the location where the social is, we plan on wearing hats and name tags to distinguish ourselves. Hopefully that level of thoughtfulness will help form friendships and ease anxiety about starting a new graduate program. We can only hope some sparks will fly.
I’m curious to know if other LIS programs have similar groups that try to connect their students. If so, how do you do it? And has it been successful?