Nine University College staff volunteered to act as trainers and facilitators in a signature experience that introduced first-year students to the University and its culture. The First-Year Experience program was identified in Syracuse University’s Academic Strategic Plan and was supported by the work of the Chancellor’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion.

The campus-wide initiative helped first-year students become engaged in the campus community through dialogue about identity and belonging, health and wellness, and diversity and inclusion.

Elizabeth Green, director of Online Student Success, trained lead and peer facilitators on the content of SEM 100—a shared reading discussion. “It was an incredible experience to learn more about the perspectives of the facilitators and their innovative ideas for how to engage students in meaningful ways,” Green said. “Trevor Noah’s book, Born a Crime, was an exceptional choice for this shared reading experience.” She said that the themes of inclusion, social injustice, and belonging provided a framework for rich and engaging dialogue.

Charlotte Stahrr, program administrator at University College, acted as a facilitator. “The students were engaged and insightful during our discussions,” said Stahrr. “While we did occasionally go off topic, I think it helped the students get to know each other better and realize that people from different backgrounds are more alike than they thought.”

“The facilitators and students both felt supported in stepping out of their comfort zones and pushing their awareness on important and relevant topics,” Green added.

The five-week shared experience enrolled 3,778 students. “I definitely think the students found real value in the exercise,” said Stahrr. “They learned more about their peers—and about themselves.”