Undergraduate Academic Affairs

November 10, 2021

Connecting, belonging, being well: Across UAA, programs welcome back students

Jenelle Birnbaum

The pack is back! For the first time since the transition to mostly virtual learning in March 2020, Huskies are crossing Red Square on their way to class. These Dawgs include two classes who are completely new to campus: incoming first-year students and second-year students, in addition to upperclassmen who’ve spent more than 18 months away from campus.

Student well-being is top of mind as programs across Undergraduate Academic Affairs are welcoming back our students. This work involves building community so students feel connected and a sense of belonging. It’s recognizing and addressing the increased stresses students may be experiencing as a result of the pandemic and the transition back to in-person learning. It’s programs incorporating resilience and mindfulness work to give students the tools to care for their mental health. It’s the dedication to meeting students where they are at. Programs are also maintaining some virtual programmatic offerings this year to increase students’ access to services. Read on to learn more about how programs throughout Undergraduate Academic Affairs are orienting and supporting students this autumn.

Academic Support Programs: An academic home away from home

Academic Support Programs are free and available for all students. See the CLUE tutoring schedule, upcoming study skills workshops, online academic resources, and schedule a meeting with an academic success coach on their website.

Academic Support Programs runs CLUE, the largest late night, multidisciplinary tutoring center at the UW, and Academic Success Coaching, individualized meetings with a peer coach to develop skills for academic success.This year they are expanding these programs to reach more students in new and innovative ways.

CLUE: Tutoring center creates a sense of community

When Academic Support Programs Director Ryan Burt asked this year’s CLUE tutors why they were interested in becoming tutors, many shared that last year’s virtual CLUE was a space where they came to be together to navigate all that was happening around them. CLUE remains focused on creating a similar sense of community to the tutoring space for the 2021-22 school year. Student tutors play a big role in setting a welcoming tone, which starts with their own self-reflection.

In the autumn quarter training class Burt co-teaches with CLUE Program Manager Lizzy Harman, tutors check in about their own experiences returning to campus. They talk about how to navigate social and emotional challenges that they and other students might be experiencing. They focus on language and strategies to develop resilience and a growth mindset, both for themselves and the students they tutor. This emphasis on their mental state is intentional. When people are in a stressed state, it can be hard to focus on one’s studies or work. These weekly class sessions happen right before CLUE opens, preparing tutors to take a holistic approach to their work. This allows them to create a calm, safe and supportive space and helps them guide students to stay motivated as challenges or setbacks arise.

Photo from 2018 of a CLUE tutor working with a student

Above: A tutor provides free tutoring in 2018. This year, CLUE is offering in-person and virtual tutoring. Of course, all CLUE participants are following the UW’s current face covering policy. Photo: Bryan Nakata

This year, CLUE is offering tutoring both in-person and virtually. Both spaces are busy; tutors quickly switch between leading tutoring tables in the Mary Gates Hall Commons and leading online sessions. This hybrid approach increases students’ access to tutoring: Some students don’t want or are unable to stay on campus late, live too far away from campus to come back for evening tutoring, or want to limit exposure to others.

Academic Success Coaching: Setting goals and making plans to reach them

Academic Success Coaching Manager Alli Bothello oversaw the expansion of the Academic Success Coaching program, expanding from eight coaches last year to 14 coaches this year. Coaching sessions are open-ended and guided by what is on the student’s mind. Conversations can range from time management and study strategies to concern over disappointing test results — “I didn’t do well on my first test; now I’ll never get into my major…” to topics beyond academics. The coaches work with each student to guide them through these experiences, with a goal of helping students find resources, develop ways to move forward from setbacks and set and reach their goals. Coaches are available to meet at whatever frequency the student needs, be it weekly, quarterly or as needs arise. They are also hosting workshops on developing effective study strategies, time management, self-care and building a community, and finals exam prep.

Academic Support Programs are free and available for all students. See the CLUE tutoring schedule, upcoming study skills workshops, online academic resources, and schedule a meeting with an academic success coach on their website.

First Year Programs: Building community and wayfinding through the UW

Cornerstones of First Year Programs’ (FYP) work are helping students learn about campus resources, build their community and understand how to navigate the UW. This work is rooted in the knowledge that students who feel connected to campus socially and academically are more likely to persist through college and earn their degree.

First-year networks: Connecting Huskies with similar lived experiences and interests

Photo of 15 student first-year network leaders posing with the signs identifying the network they are facilitating.

First-year networks help students make connections with other Huskies who have similar lived experiences, interests and aspirations. Here, the peer network leaders share their group’s focus.

First-year networks are social groups run by peer leaders. The 14 networks’ themes range from shared interests, including mindful-living, foodies, to shared identities, such as East Asian and transfer students. Students are connected through a Discord (a group chatting platform), and are invited to various events and meetups, learn about academic support programs and most importantly meet a group of students with similar interests and shared identities, helping them establish a community at the UW. FYP surveyed students as they signed up for networks: 93% registered to make friends and 90% are seeking connections to students with shared interests.

First-year interest groups keep well-being at the forefront of their work

Mindfulness and self-care is incorporated into each General Studies 199 class meeting, taught by First-year Interest Group Leaders. The goals of this are to help students understand mindfulness and its benefits. They explore mindfulness activities like journaling, meditation, 3-minute dance parties and breathing exercises.

Each FIG Leader brings in a LiveWell peer health educator to lead a seminar on one of four topics: mental health, coping with clouds, Sleepy Husky or physical health. The peer educators explore the science of the given topic and discuss how it connects to physical, mental and emotional health. One past participant commented, “The mental health seminar project was important to me since the pandemic has taken a toll on me when it comes to being motivated and isolated.” There is also great power in hearing peers talk about similar experiences, with another participant sharing, “Being able to have guest speakers talk about research, mental health and admissions was extremely valuable because it gave me more understanding for how the areas work. I don’t feel alone in the process of college.”

Paw print line drawing with purple outlineStudents can still join a First-year network.
First Year Programs also has ongoing student leadership opportunities. 

Honors: Introducing a student-led mentorship program

Photo of almost 50 students, wearing face coverings, posing for a group photo.

The new, student-led Honors Peer Mentoring Program launched with a welcome event on October 21, 2021.Provided by Shannon Hong

The Honors Program’s new wellness-oriented program is student-led. Shannon Hong, a junior majoring in neuroscience, first experienced peer mentoring through the student-led Neurobiology Club Mentorship Program. Finding it valuable, she approached Honors to start a similar program for them. The Honors Peer Mentoring Program, launched this fall, creates a network of support within the Honors Program. Volunteer mentors are connected with mentees and focus to help them navigate the Honors requirements and their general Husky experience. “My peers and I initially created the Honors Peer Mentoring Program to help students feel more supported and engaged in the Honors community,” explains Hong. “But since then, it has grown into something bigger — a program that empowers students to become leaders and take initiative in their UW Honors experience.” These mentoring relationships are available throughout the entire year.

Paw print line drawing with purple outlineApplications for the Honors Peer Mentoring Program winter cohort will open on January 3, 2022. Check the website to learn more.

Office of Educational Assessment: Surveying students to best meet their needs

The Office of Educational Assessment is launching Husky Check-in surveys this year. Designed to gauge student needs in real time, these twice-a-quarter surveys will focus on timely issues related to the student experience. The first survey explored how students are accessing support services, their preferences for virtual versus in-person offerings, whether where they live impacts their preference and what additional unmet needs may exist. The research team will share the results with key stakeholders across campus who can use the feedback to adapt programs to match the needs of students. The first survey launched the week of October 11, 2021; approximately 1,300 undergraduate and 400 graduate students participated.

Resilience Lab: Working towards a campus culture of compassion and mindfulness

Learn about upcoming BeREAL sessions and request copies of the Well-being for Life and Learning guidebook.

The Resilience Lab’s work centers on promoting well-being among students, faculty and staff at the University of Washington. Their Be REAL (REsilient Attitudes and Living), a program developed in collaboration with the Center for Child and Family Well-Being, has equipped more than 100 faculty and staff members with skills and tools to foster their own wellness and that of their colleagues and students. Be REAL participants learn mindfulness skills to manage stressful emotions, strengthen self-awareness and to foster community well-being and mental health. Because of that ripple effect, Be REAL reaches people far beyond those who signed up for the 6-week course. And the reach of this work will continue to deepen. For example, some alumni of Be REAL choose to participate in a community of practice where they can ask questions and brainstorm ways to bring these ideas into their work. “It’s really powerful to do this with colleagues,” explains Sasha Duttchoudhury, Resilience Lab graduate student assistant. “Doing this on ‘work time’ shows value, that the UW values our well-being.”

The Be REAL faculty and staff program grew out of the student Be REAL course. The current format allows for flexibility, allowing it to be a stand-alone class or taught as part of other programs. Be REAL is also offered as a one-quarter class for students. Be REAL recently created a video series covering the Be REAL concepts and practices.

Another way the Resilience Lab is bringing well-being practices to the campus community is through the “Well-being for Life and Learning” initiative. Students, staff and faculty collaborated on this work to create a vision for the classroom as a cornerstone of well-being. The resulting guidebook is organized into four main pillars: teaching for equity and access; nurturing connections; building coping and resilience skills; and connecting to the environment. The guidebook’s appeal is wide: with programs from STEM to social sciences ordering copies.

President Cauce talks about the benefits of Be REAL in her annual address:

Paw print line drawing with purple outlineUW News recently ran a story about the Resilience Lab’s work, including an interview with director Megan Kennedy. Read the article here.

Robinson Center: Intentionally bringing students to campus and creating community

Photo of a student's hand signing a blanket that reads "UW Robinson Center 2021" and has handwritten notes of encouragement from other students on it.

Students sign blankets for one another as a community-building activity at this year’s orientation.

Preparing Transition School students to come to campus for the first time began in spring 2021. Transition School principal Lisa Scott recognized that for this group — students who spend what would be their ninth grade year preparing to fully matriculate into the UW the following year — knowing their way around campus and building a community was crucial to their emotional and physical well-being. Scott developed a plan to safely bring these students to campus in May 2021. They spent the day completing a campus-wide scavenger hunt and acclimating to the campus environment. “Many parents have told me that the May Activity Day was the highlight of their student’s year,” shared Scott. This group of students returned to the UW campus as first year Early Entrance Program students in autumn 2021.

To prepare Robinson Center students for the 2021-22 school year, the Robinson Center held orientations for the Early Entrance, UW Academy and Transition School students. Though each orientation was fine-tuned to meet the groups’ specific needs, common threads included building community, exploring campus and learning about campus resources.

Learn more about the Robinson Center’s programs.

Students are typically two to three years younger than most of their college peers, and student well-being programs remain a priority throughout the year. Students continue to meet with mentors and attend seminar classes on topics including majors and resources. The Robinson Center serves as a mini-HUB with places to relax, study, hangout with friends and eat outside.

When touring the space recently, an engineering colleague commented, “You can feel the community in this space.”

Student-Athlete Academic Services: Keeping the pulse on student-athlete well-being

Illustration of elements of sports student-athletes compete in: shoes, soccer ball, tennis racket and ball, relay baton, basketball, football, softball ball and helmet, bat, baseball, dumbell, uneven bars, volleyball, golf ball and tee, oar

Illustration: Burke Smithers

Student-Athlete Academic Services (SAAS) has been checking on the well-being of the UW’s 650 student-athletes throughout the pandemic through their regular pulse surveys. These 10-question surveys asked about what’s going well to what’s been most challenging. SAAS adjusted their programs and outreach based on the feedback they received.

Throughout the pandemic, the SAAS team also discovered new ways of serving their students: virtual counseling and virtual tutoring. Pre-pandemic, these services were exclusively offered in person. Yet the effectiveness of these online programs means the SAAS team will carry them forward. For athletes who travel to meets, games and competitions, being able to continue to access tutoring and counseling uninterrupted is hugely beneficial.

Join the team and make your own wellness commitment with this printable. Print it, write your commitment on it and post it somewhere visible to you to continue to encourage yourself.
Image of the wellness commitment printable. Husky dog face at the top left, next to the words, "My commitment to wellness..." UAA's logo at the bottom of the page on top of a purple bar.

The SAAS team saw both first- and second- year students join their orientation. This year’s focus was building community — community within the 22 teams, within the student-athlete community and the broader UW community. Activities included a campus-wide scavenger hunt to find campus resources and a barbeque with coaches and staff from around campus to help students connect to the UW’s services. They also participated in the NCAA’s Mental Health Awareness Week. Students particularly embraced the wellness wall, where they anonymously wrote a commitment to personal wellness they are committing to for the 2021-22 year. Mental health services, team doctors and nutrition advising supports continue year round. In addition, SAAS provides advising, tutoring, career development, internships and academic coaching year round to best support our Husky student-athletes.

Undergraduate Research Program: Introducing undergrads to the what, why and how of research

Photo of student wearing a purple UW face covering working on a computer in a medical lab.

The Undergraduate Research Program works with students to find research opportunities across all fields, including the humanities, arts and sciences.

The Undergraduate Research Program is building community within their 43 undergraduate research leaders (URLs) — student volunteers who help their peers get involved with research. Last year, the URLs spoke to more than 1,500 students about these opportunities. This work included a two-day orientation, which took a holistic approach to leadership development, with lots of time for reflection and conversation. There was an emphasis on empathy to help students slow down, reflect on the experiences of one another and and find commonalities with their own experiences. Mindfulness practices like deep breathing and other grounding exercises were included to help students center themselves.

Another key component of orientation was a diversity, equity and inclusion training on inclusivity and bias. The URLs learned about the experiences and potential barriers encountered by students from groups ranging from BIPOC students to first-gen to neurodiverse students to transfer students. Students then reflected on how this awareness will change their mindset in their work as a URL, explaining, “Our role is not just to promote research, and generally mentor undergrads entering research, but to help others to overcome the barriers that they may be facing in even entering a lab in the first place.”

The URLs are proactively thinking about ways to continue to support their peers and are pitching ideas — unprompted — to URP’s leadership team. We’ll share info about these new initiatives on our social media channels as they are launched.

In addition to their URL program, the Undergraduate Research Program expanded their advising offerings to include weekly virtual advising, in-person group advising and individual drop-in advising appointments. These sessions often focus on learning how to get involved with research and answer questions like, “I’m a first-year student. Is research for me?” (Answer: Yes!) Through the continued support, students grow their confidence and resilience as they navigate finding a research team and ultimately begin their research experiences.

Paw print line drawing with purple outlineGet involved with undergraduate research. Check the Undergraduate Research Program website for upcoming advising sessions, search for research opportunities and more.