Adaptability. It’s something students and educators worldwide have learned to embrace in recent months – and the academic support team within Carleton University’s Faculty of Engineering and Design (FED) has shown itself to be no exception in transforming its services to support online learning.

FED has been working harder than ever to ensure students are confident and comfortable approaching the fall semester during a time of remote learning.

Enter ‘block facilitators’ – current upper year Bachelor of Engineering students that have begun supporting and mentoring new first-year students who have entered engineering programs at Carleton this fall.

Alana Brzozowski, Academic Support Officer in FED, has been supervising the almost 20-person staff team in their roles as facilitators. With these student leaders already engaging newcomers ahead of the Fall semester, they’ve been working to make Carleton comfortable from behind the screen.

Online group session for incoming students in Carleton’s Environmental Engineering program.

“Incoming students are getting the opportunity to learn all of the things that the block facilitators themselves wished they had known before their first-year of engineering at Carleton,” says Brzozowski.

Facilitators have been hosting weekly group meetings for new students to connect, meet each other and learn more about how to prepare for their first year engineering experience. New students have been arranged in smaller groups to help establish a close-knit setting. While the purpose of the groups is to allow first-years to make connections, the block facilitators are also providing tailored information and giving referrals for specific student needs.

“It’s really an avenue to let the students make connections with each other, which is so important heading into first year,” says Brzozowski. “It’s important for them to know they have those peer connections to rely on even though they won’t be sitting beside each other in class.”

Nikhitha Gajudhur graduated as an international student, in the Aerospace Engineering program back in 2018. She completed her co-op with FED’s Recruitment and Outreach team and is now supporting several of FED’s new first-year experience initiatives.

“As a student, I always felt like I was in a welcoming environment in my engineering classes, so I hope I can provide that to students this year through our initiatives,” Gajudhur says.

Engineering Outreach Coordinator Nikhitha Gajudhur (BEng/18) is supporting several of the Faculty of Engineering and Design’s new first-year experience initiatives.

Gajudhur says regular online meetings are vital in making students feel connected to their Eng community before academics kick in.

“The weekly group meetings are really helping students develop those close connections with their peers that they would have done during their first few weeks on campus,” she says. “Our team is constantly looking at ways to make all of those traditional orientation experiences as interactive as possible.

“For example in the past, Academic Orientation Day had recent grads come in to talk about their experiences. This year we’re going to do a live student panel where they’ll talk about their experiences and students watching the panel can ask questions.”

In addition to this, a new first year engineering website has been launched, along with a YouTube channel dedicated to helping new students refresh on key high school math concepts that they’ll need in their first-year engineering courses. FED is also sending out textbook lists and instructions on software required for labs several weeks before the term starts, to allow students to plan ahead.

“I think the YouTube channel is a great resource for students,” says Gajudhur. “The videos will be available all year round and help students understand the connection between high school math and university courses.”

Gajudhur has also been working to connect with students in the online world through other social media platforms. By leveraging the power of online connection, FED has been engaging in Q+A’s on Facebook and hosting Instagram competitions.

Online group session for incoming students in Carleton’s Biomedical and Electrical Engineering program.

Another exciting opportunity these virtual events are providing is that of experience of diversity.

“We have students who are on the block meeting calls from across the world – Nigeria, China, and India, and many other international locations – all who are experiencing the pandemic in different ways,” says Brzozowski. “But they all have something in common – preparing to start their first year engineering studies online.”

The most fulfilling aspect for Gajudhur is to see everything come full circle at Carleton.

“I start talking to students when they are in Grade 11 and 12 and then I get to see them on campus when they’re accepted,” she says. “Now I get to see them all online, and while it may not be face to face, I still get that feeling of pride every time a student is welcomed into the Carleton engineering community.”

By: Leah Coppella

Monday, September 14, 2020 in , ,
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