MatSE mentorship helps first-year students form 'meaningful connections' with upperclassmen
After 18 months of virtual learning,University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign students were able to safely transition back to in-person learning, allowing incoming freshmen and even some sophomores to step foot on campus for the very first time.
Others, like Shivam Tailor, a current sophomore, had the opportunity to spend his first year on campus.
“I was disheartened and sad that I wouldn’t get the full college experience,” he said. “I was looking forward to the freedom of college and meeting new people everywhere I went.”
In the fall of 2020, Tailor and other U of I Department of Materials Science and Engineering freshmen took only one in-person class, Engineering Orientation or also called ENG 100. Here the first-year students met once a week to learn important skills for exemplary leadership, professional practice, and life-long learning as an engineer.
"The only classmates we personally knew were in MatSE, and that’s how I knew the community was tight-knit,” Tailor said.
Even with an in-person class, it was still difficult to get to know the other classmates while socially distancing and wearing masks. Although the first introduction was awkward, Tailor’s classmates were determined to start forming their community, which included stopping for bubble tea after the first class so that they could get to know each other.
“I noticed that there was a stark difference between ENG 100 and (my) online chemistry lecture, for example,” Tailor said. “In ENG 100, my classmates and I would collaborate. Those in-class interactions led us to hang out after class and bond.”
“(The) chemistry lecture, on the other hand, was a constant grind — straight work and no classmate interaction.” Tailor added. “With the desire for in-person learning, my ENG 100 classmates and I would meet weekly to do homework in-person.”
To get further involved in the MatSE community, Tailor ran for one of the freshman representative positions at the Material Advantage student society.
“Meeting people outside of ENG 100 made me more confident to plan other events,”Tailor said. “I asked the executive board for the process to plan in-person events, which led to planning events such as capture the flag, ultimate frisbee and study sessions.”
The capture the flag event was one of thefirst events where Tailor and other freshmen met the MatSE upperclassmen. Last spring, Material Advantage hosted a scavenger hunt for the freshmen, which allowed them to meet the professors and learn where classes would be. The scavenger hunt took the freshmen through the materials science and engineering and ceramics buildings as well as the Bardeen Quad, where students would typically have their classes.
They also were able to meet associate professor Pinshane Huang, who teaches the MSE 182 — the first class the MatSE freshmen take. Interestingly enough, this was the first time the freshmen met a professor of theirs.
“Something we all thrived from in high school was forming meaningful connections with our teachers. This was something we looked forward to going into college, but the chance to form those connections were stripped from us due to the nature of online classes,” Tailor said. “We all loved (associate) professor Huang over Zoom, and (we) wished we could meet her in-person. Over a scavenger hunt and donuts, we got the opportunity!”
This year, Tailor is in charge of the MatSE mentorship program, and he is determined to keep people involved and engaged through events such as homework meetups, picnics on the quad and ice cream socials. Events like these eased Tailor’s nerves and allowed him to comfortably integrate into the MatSE community.
“Having a small major made me feel nervous that I’d be isolated,” Tailor said. “Now, I love the small community, and (I) know that people genuinely care. My classmates are my support system, and (they) want to challenge each other and see each other succeed.”