As students tune into Zoom lectures from across the globe, the Division of Student Affairs is launching an initiative to connect with students who are studying remotely. The Remote Connections Team, consisting of five staff members from the Division, is planning to reach out individually to every off-campus student this semester.
“We know that classes and advisors anchor your academic connection to Bowdoin, but we also recognize that you are managing a lot right now—whether it’s navigating your semester from home; staying engaged with classmates, friends and other Bowdoin connections you hold dear; or just processing the overwhelming challenges of the current moment,” wrote Janet Lohmann, senior vice president and dean for student affairs, in an email sent to students on October 2.
According to Katie Toro-Ferrari, associate dean for student affairs and assistant to the dean for student affairs, the idea began in the spring when Lohmann voiced concern that students studying remotely were disconnecting from the College.
“[There was] this feeling of just a big question mark around what students’ lives and experiences were looking like, being remote,” said Toro-Ferrari in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient. “This was the case in the spring and it’s certainly the case now that students continue to have the relationships that they have with people at Bowdoin, whether it’s coaches or advisers or deans. But there was this sense of, in addition to that, do people still feel like they have this connection to the ethos of Bowdoin?”
The Remote Connections Team is composed of Toro-Ferrari, Associate Director of the McKeen Center Tom Ancona, McKeen Center Associate Director for Public Service Sarah Chingos, Outing Club Director Michael Woodruff and Outing Club Assistant Director Tess Hamilton.
“The Student Affairs staff cares deeply about the students and how they’re doing,” said Chingos in a Microsoft Teams interview with the Orient. “And that is something—that in putting together this response team, I think it is something that we really wanted to prioritize, making sure that we have a sense of how students are doing, realistically. And so this is a tool that we can use to help, in addition to connections through athletics and through other programs.”
Toro-Ferrari explained that the team is currently establishing students to contact and is hoping to prioritize students who may be least connected to the College at this time.
“We’ve been thinking about things like how we reach out to international students versus students that are in the U.S., or how we think about students that might already be plugged in because they’re athletes or because they are involved in student organizations within the McKeen Center or the Outing Club, and then what about the students that maybe don’t have as obvious of a connection and thinking about how we can prioritize those students,” said Toro-Ferrari.
Chingos, who has already begun reaching out to students via email, said that students are given the option to respond by text or email and then, if they wish, set up a video chat for a longer conversation.
“[Video chats] give me an opportunity to see students and to really engage in a conversation,” said Chingos. “Then I can talk to them about how their classes going and [if] there are additional supports that we can connect them with through the [Baldwin Center for Learning and Teaching], or the Counseling Services, or through getting more involved with an organization or a club that they might not be sure of the status of for the fall. It also is a way for us just to make sure that everyone’s doing all right.”
Toro-Ferrari stressed that though these calls can help students connect to specific resources, they also provide an opportunity for students to have a conversation with someone outside of their household—a rarity in an era of social distancing.
“As a student affairs person, I just really miss students,” said Chingos. “I miss having informal conversations with students, one-on-one. So if this is an opportunity for me to connect with students, and an opportunity for students to connect with me, I want to be there for it.”