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Carolina Away offers new online social events and courses in the spring semester

DTH Photo Illustration. In the Spring 2021 semester, the Carolina Away program is expanding to include a new "opportunity curriculum and a social activity hub".

Carolina Away, UNC’s remote-only program for first-year and transfer students, started its second semester with a fresh look. 

The program has added a new Social Activity Hub and revamped its curriculum with new courses built for Carolina Away students.

Rudolf Colloredo-Mansfeld, academic director of the Carolina Away program, said these new expansions are centered around creating a strong online community for remote-only students.

“One of the steep learning curves in putting the Carolina Away program together was figuring out how to connect with students,” Colloredo-Mansfeld said. “How to provide a social life alongside the academic life.”

Carolina Away has created a new opportunity curriculum that includes nine courses students can take during the spring semester. Each of the courses allows students to build relationships in a small-group setting. 

“One of the things about being a remote learner is that it's really hard to experience the breadth of a research university,” Colloredo-Mansfeld said. “The opportunity curriculum gives students a chance to be in Zoom calls with faculty from all over the University.”

Another goal of the opportunity curriculum is to provide flexibility for students taking Carolina Away classes along with other first-year courses, Colloredo-Mansfeld said. This semester, the courses in the opportunity curriculum are one or two credit hours, and over half are pass/fail.

“The fall classes were really positively reviewed by the students, but it did require extra time and effort,” Colloredo-Mansfeld said. “We preserved the value in the classes, but we wanted to lighten the load for students.”

Solomon Lowry, a first-year student in the program, said he feels like the curriculum is providing resources for him to be successful in remote-only learning. Lowry took Carolina Away’s Special Topics in Independent Studies  in the fall when it was offered as COVID-19 Investigations and Learning Communities — and it was one of the most positive experiences he has had in the program, he said. 

“People are trying to reach out to you, trying to make a good community,” Lowry said. “You have opportunities and resources, (they’re) just not throwing you out there in the dark, remote learning on your own.” 

The Social Activity Hub includes a variety of event options, such as movie nights and watch parties. The hub is led by student ambassadors, who are members of Carolina Away themselves. 

Bhagyashree Behera, a first-year student, became an ambassador to bring change to the social aspects of the initiative. This semester, Behera and other ambassadors are planning new events to bridge the social and academic sides of Carolina Away.  

“Our main goal is to create a sense of community away from home,” Behera said. “We create these events, so no matter where people are coming from, we can all come together and talk about our experiences.”

Annabelle Jiang, a first-year student who recently rejoined the program, is looking forward to attending events Carolina Away has planned for this semester. Jiang dropped the program a few weeks into the fall semester due to her busy course load. After leaving, Jiang said she felt as if she had missed out on making social connections with her peers, which led her to rejoin for the spring semester.

“Carolina Away makes it possible for students to connect with each other. That vibe that they give you is really welcoming — it’s like a family,” Jiang said.

As the program progresses, the administration will rely upon feedback from previous semesters to determine what new paths the initiative will take in the future, Colloredo-Mansfeld said.

“We’re experimenting, and we’re trying new ideas," Colloredo-Mansfeld said. "Some of them are working, some of them aren’t. We’re still learning a lot. That’s the unfinished work of the Carolina Away program.”


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