It’s officially August, which means summer is coming to an end, and the first day of classes is right around the corner. This time last year marked a move to a new city, a transition to new jobs, and a nervous excitement to start my MLIS program. I imagine that the incoming cohort is having similar feelings. I’m settled in this year, and while I’m no longer eagerly anticipating the first day of classes, I’m excited for the incoming cohort to start the program, and I can’t wait to meet everyone.
When I started my MLIS last year, I was enthusiastic about meeting students who were already in the program. The returning class had been there for a year or two and had experiences in the program that I wanted to learn about; however, while I made some incredible friendships with returning students and managed to connect with others through student groups I joined, it always felt like there was a disconnect between cohorts. In my program, first-year students take two core classes with one another and are not required to take electives. As a result, new students do not take classes with returning students until January, a full 4 months after starting the program. The only way to connect with returning students is to join or participate in a student group, or to obtain a job where second-year students are already working – something that is not feasible for every student.
While it was definitely beneficial to connect with my own cohort, I felt that there had to be a better way to bridge the divide between new and returning students. I find this important because new and existing cohorts have the potential to learn from one another’s experiences, perspectives, and backgrounds. I also wanted to ensure that new students felt supported as they entered the program, especially since so many people move from out-of-state or are making a significant life decision by pursuing an MLIS. The end goal is to create a sense of community between everyone in the program, no matter how far along they are in their studies. How can we facilitate relationships between cohorts and ensure everyone feels welcome and safe to ask questions?
My cohort has a Facebook page that we use to ask questions related to the program, post things that we think others will enjoy, talk about life experiences, and invite one another to outings or events. I wanted to make something similar that included both the returning and incoming cohorts. We created a combined cohort Facebook page and invited anyone who was currently in the program or was about to enter the program to join. I’m sure the page hasn’t reached every incoming student (especially those who do not use Facebook), but it’s been a successful platform to ask questions and share information with one another.
A very common question and source of anxiety is housing. There are many parts of Denver that are not cheap, and someone who is new to the city won’t necessarily know which neighborhoods are reasonable to live in. Incoming students also want to know what jobs are available and where they can find posted jobs. To help with the job and housing search, we created a collaborative document that people can add to or use as a finding aid instead of searching through multiple websites or comment threads. Making the search process easier by consolidating multiple resources into one space is an attempt to help others save time, ensure they are looking in the right places, and, hopefully, ease some of the stress involved in the search process.
Beyond the Facebook group, we are working on organizing a meet-and-greet for the day after orientation. I’m co-president of one of our student groups, and I’m lucky to have a co-president who has amazing ideas and was 100% on board with creating this event. Student groups are invited to speak at orientation, so we are using that opportunity to promote the meet-and-greet to anyone who is not on the Facebook page. We chose the day after orientation because we figured everyone would be in town by that point, the first years would have the opportunity to meet one another and learn a bit about the program, and because the day after orientation is a Saturday so it should be easier for everyone to attend. The idea is to create an opportunity to meet with one another outside of the program and before classes start so that everyone feels comfortable contacting one another throughout the school year.
There’s still a lot we can do to encourage collaboration between our new and existing colleagues. I met most of the students in the cohort above me through student groups and events. Encouraging new students to join groups and creating engaging meetings and events will be another way that we can combine forces. Student groups should also be cognizant about meeting and event dates and times so that students are able to attend without worrying about work or class schedules. In addition to student groups, a Hack Library School alumnus, Hailley Fargo, posted about a project and mentorship program that connected new students with the returning class. Creating a plan and organization to connect students is something that future classes can consider implementing.
Ultimately, I hope that my class and the incoming class are able to form relationships with one another and that we are able to ease the division I felt existed between the two cohorts when I started. There will always be differences between cohorts (after all, incoming students are excited about starting the program and returning students are excited to leave the program), but we all have something to offer one another.
How are you connecting with incoming students? For new students, what do you hope to learn from returning students?
Melissa DeWitt is an MLIS student at the University of Denver. You can find her on Twitter.