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Cultivating community for first year students: Experiences in adapting a peer mentoring program to remote format.

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2021 First-Year Engineering Experience



Publication Date

August 9, 2021

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August 9, 2021

End Date

August 21, 2021

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Jill Davishahl Western Washington University

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Jill Davishahl is Assistant Professor and First Year Programs Director in the Engineering + Design department at Western Washington University. Jill's teaching, service, and research activities focus on enhancing the engineering and design first year student experience by providing the foundational technical skills, student engagement opportunities, and professional skill development necessary to improve success in the major, with emphasis on supporting non-dominant student populations. Her current research focuses on creating inclusive and equitable learning environments through the development and implementation of strategies geared towards increasing student sense of belonging.

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Emilia Mediavilla Western Washington University


Asaki Nelson Western Washington University

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Asaki Nelson is an industrial design junior at Western Washington University with minors in Sustainable design and UX design. As a student engagement liaison, she works to cultivate the student community and tackle systemic issues within the STEM field.

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Creating community for first year students is an essential component to developing a strong sense of belonging. Whether or not students feel as though they belong is closely linked to their likelihood of success. Remote learning and social distancing have made it more challenging for students to develop connections with one another which has led to challenges fostering belonging. The pandemic has required educators to come up with new strategies to foster student connections and enhance student engagement. With a focus on connecting students across engineering disciplines and academic levels, the Engineering and Design Department at Western Washington University adapted an existing peer mentoring program to enhance student engagement and build social networks for first year engineering students. This paper includes a detailed discussion of the evolution from an on-campus makerspace centered peer mentoring program to an online student engagement liaison program. Of particular interest is how the remote version of the program has provided new ways for students to connect virtually and has allowed first year students to develop relationships with upper-division students despite the physical disconnection that has occurred as a result of the pandemic. The authors share their insights and reflections on the process of adapting to online mentoring and summarize the challenges and opportunities of exploring new ways of connecting students. The program is a work-in-progress that will continue to be developed and modified as the department begins to resume in-person operations and adapts to the changing needs and expectations of incoming students.

Davishahl, J., & Mediavilla, E., & Nelson, A. (2021, August), Cultivating community for first year students: Experiences in adapting a peer mentoring program to remote format. Paper presented at 2021 First-Year Engineering Experience, Virtual .

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