Behrend launches virtual program to engage first-year students

An illustration with the words "Belonging @ Behrend" next to the Nittany Lion.

The new Belonging@Behrend program will group first-year students in small cohorts for weekly mentoring sessions. Students also will be encouraged to participate in events through BehrendSync, the college's student engagement platform.

Credit: Penn State Behrend

ERIE, Pa. — The start of the fall semester at Penn State Behrend introduces an innovative new program, Belonging​@​Behrend, designed to keep first-year students engaged wherever they are—whether on campus or commuting, in class or learning remotely.

“First-year engagement is always a priority for us. It helps to set our new students up for success in their academic careers,” said Pamela Silver, associate dean for Academic Affairs, who is spearheading the program. “This year, our students face the unique circumstances of social distancing requirements and remote learning options. Belonging​@​Behrend will support our new students in their transition to college and help them create important connections to the Behrend community.”

The program has two components. In the Canvas learning management system, students will be grouped in small cohorts for weekly mentoring meetings. In BehrendSync, the college’s student engagement platform, participants will have the opportunity to follow a path with a variety of activities — such as meeting with an academic adviser, listening to a guest speaker, or attending a club meeting — designed to enhance their success and sense of belonging to the Behrend community.

Members of the faculty, staff, and administration have volunteered to serve as advisers to the Canvas mentoring cohorts, and first-year seminar instructors will include the program on their course syllabi to encourage student participation. Returning students have been trained to act as peer mentors who will draw on their own recent experience as newcomers to Behrend to guide the first-year students during the fall semester.

“Being new to campus can be overwhelming," Chris Butler, president of the Behrend Student Government Association, told students in a video about the program. "That’s what Belonging​@​Behrend is all about. It will connect you to other students, show you the people and services available, and, most of all, help you become a part of our Behrend community — your Behrend community.”