COVID-19 led to thorough restructuring of the higher education system worldwide this year. We realize the massive amounts of stress caused by this situation to incoming freshman classes, and particularly within our own community at Boston University (BU), where traditional summer orientation programs were converted to online formats. In order to aid these students in a smoother transition into university, we created Freshmen Connect: an online mentorship program that matches incoming BU freshmen with upperclassmen mentors to ease the students’ worries and prepare them for a successful and positive experience at BU.

Proposed Solution/What We Created

Freshmen Connect is an online program created on Wordpress. On our website, we explain the program, which lasts for nine weeks with mentor-mentee pairs or groups. We are offering an email option and a video option in order to accommodate any time zone issues due to the current pandemic. The email option is set up for one-on-one contact with a mentor while the video option is set up for groups of two or three mentees. Mentors and mentees are asked to commit to at least one email exchange or video meeting per week throughout the duration of the program.

Our website guides interested mentors and mentees through the recruitment process. The first step is to fill out an interest survey, ranging from 12-14 questions and divided into two parts. The first part serves as the application portion, to collect general information and assess access to technology. The second part will be used to match mentors with mentees, asking questions about majors and extracurricular interests. Program Managers will review the applications and email students who have been accepted into the program. Acceptances will be awarded based solely on the first part of the interest survey, considering purpose for applying, availability, and necessary access to technology. After program participation has been confirmed, students will be matched based on the second part of the interest survey. Applications will be accepted all summer. For scheduling flexibility, each pair or group will have an individual program start date, and the end date will be nine weeks later. All mentorship programs must end by the program term end date in September.

Several resources are provided on our website to guide mentors throughout the program, including an explanation of meeting guides (which will be emailed to mentors prior to the program start date), instructions for downloading and using Zoom with video tutorials, and links to free online readings and guides about mentorship. We will keep adding to this page based on mentor needs and suggestions. Lastly, we have created a Contact Us page for questions, comments, and/or suggestions and we will be adding an FAQ section based on the questions we receive.

Challenges We Faced

Our initial challenge was to address the scope of the program. We were aiming towards an intercollegiate community, but became unsure as to whether or not we should limit it. We ultimately decided to create the program for the BU community alone because we wanted to create an effective and safe program. Starting with a smaller target population seemed more feasible and establishing a functional system under our own community seemed best before extending it to others.

After making this decision, we became concerned with the security of the program. We wanted to keep the platform restricted to BU students to prevent fraudulent users from applying. For this reason, our interest survey requires that users use a BU email address. We also wanted to protect information that mentors and mentees were submitting to us in their interest surveys. For this reason, only Program Managers will access this information and are held accountable under the FERPA Non-Disclosure Agreement. All mentors will also be asked to sign this agreement before their program start date to protect potentially sensitive information disclosed by mentees. Additionally, all Zoom meetings within the program will be required to have a meeting password.

Implementation Plan

Our current plan for summer 2020 is to begin the program by the end of June, though for future years we will consider an earlier start date. We have created advertisements to post on the Boston University Class of 2024 Facebook page and on other classes’ pages. Our short-term goal is to recruit at least 20 mentors and 25 mentees, for approximately 20 pairs or groups. The Class of 2024 consists of approximately 3,100 students.

A Zoom meeting will be held with Program Managers prior to individual program start dates to welcome mentors, explain expectations, and clarify questions. Tailoring this mentorship to individual interests and needs of mentees will be at the core of the program and will be reinforced. Weekly Zoom meetings with Program Managers will be held throughout the summer for mentors to work through any concerns that may arise.

Accomplishments We’re Proud Of

1. BU Website Sponsored by BU Spark! We were able to successfully create a blank staging site with the BU address. Once it is completed, it will be reviewed by faculty and approved for public launch. The address will be

2. Resources that Accommodate Entire Transition Experience We have created ten meeting guides for our mentors to use with mentees, but we expect each partnership to autonomously choose the order and selection of topics to be discussed. The topics range from transportation in the city, managing finances, navigating campus, academic and career development resources, student organizations, among others. All meeting guides include an icebreaker question, a topic breakdown section, possible activities, and discussion questions. As recent freshmen ourselves, we were able to anticipate the kinds of questions incoming students might ask and know experiences they can prepare for ahead of time. We plan on continuously making improvements and additions to the existing meeting guides to accommodate feedback from program participants.

3. First University-Wide Mentorship for Incoming Freshmen BU has several individual mentorship programs within student organizations and certain colleges or majors. However, our program will be the first that is a university-wide initiative for all freshmen across colleges, majors, and interests.

Long Term Vision

Upon our launch this summer, our goal is to continue developing this program for subsequent freshmen, hopefully in a world where COVID-19 will be less central. We aim to create a platform where all incoming freshmen can have a comprehensive support system. The importance of such a system has been realised in light of the pandemic and we want to create a permanent guidance system for newly admitted students. This program will be constantly adapting and improving based on feedback from our mentors and mentees. We want to create a network where individual experiences can be shared to foster a sense of community. We may eventually expand the program to include other universities.

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