Navigating the college social scene is hard enough — now make it all online.
In response to student demands for adequate academic and social opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of Off-Campus Student Life and the Carolina Away program have created student positions and community-based programs to encourage responsible social engagement.
Carolina Away student ambassadors
Carolina Away first started in August 2020 to provide a virtual space for students to take digital courses and participate in small-group experiences with classmates, faculty and staff.
The program's target demographic is primarily first-year and transfer students, and those who are abroad.
Student Ambassador Lorelai Sykes said she became involved in Carolina Away as a work-study opportunity. She said she wanted to add more social events to the Carolina Away programming.
As an ambassador, Sykes said students get to work with the dean’s office to develop initiatives that would best serve students — both socially and academically.
“Our movie nights are pretty popular, but we have other programs as well,” Sykes said.
One such event is an online panel that invites upper-level students to discuss their experiences at UNC for the benefit of first-years and transfer students.
Many first years, Sykes said, have had a far from typical Carolina experience because of the limited on-campus living.
“It’s a lonely experience when you are in lockdown and trying to earn a degree,” Sykes said.
This is why, Sykes said a large function of the ambassadorship program is “trying to create a lighthearted space for people to come and unwind.”
Associate dean for academic advising Chloe Russell said after she recognized some of Carolina Away's early complications, she was urged to create a series of student positions within Carolina Away experience.
“The goal was to have a more well-rounded experience for the Carolina Away program,” Russell said.
Carolina Away had already secured two of its three main objectives by the end of the fall 2020 semester — namely its classroom and academic advising component, she said.
Despite the social challenges brought by the pandemic, Sykes said Carolina Away can effectively help students with various academic, social and, to a certain extent, mental health issues that arise.
Student Outreach Coordinators
Student Outreach Coordinators — a new employment opportunity through the Office of Off-Campus Student Life — tasks students with fostering communication for off-campus students through a variety of peer-based platforms and channels.
The program is intended to serve as a community-building resource for off-campus students, non-student neighbors and the broader Chapel Hill-Carrboro community. It aims to make fellow students aware of the expectations placed upon them by their communities, the University and the state/municipal ordinances.
Executive director of off-campus student life and community partnerships Aaron Bachenheimer said the office’s general goal is two-fold: to help students who are considering moving to an off-campus residence achieve their goal safely and equitably, and to make sure that all students who live in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro neighborhoods are respectful community members.
Student employees also help develop a series of online ventures aimed at connecting fellow off-campus students to programming and information. These student employees help manage the office’s digital presence on social media and send emails to residences with previous offenses about resources.
“I do some follow up where there are some bigger issues in the community, but our student outreach coordinators are helping us with some of the low-level issues,” Bachenheimer said.
The office ultimately launched this program to get students living off-campus to strengthen their local communities from the grassroots, he said.
“These students are here to increase outreach to students,” Bachenheimer said. “Because the ultimate goal is to have students understand what the community’s expectations are and the University’s expectations are and to adhere to those.”
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