Creating Connections

Monday, September 28, 2020

DawgsTogether and Connect 

As the semester progresses, we continue to learn more about teaching effectively in the midst of a global pandemic. While not everything has gone perfectly, many faculty and students have reported positive experiences in their classes – students continue to adhere to social distancing and wear face coverings, technology has worked well, and everyone is slowly getting accustomed to the challenges of hybrid teaching/learning. However, many faculty report a significant drop in classroom attendance. Please attend class regularly, especially on the days when you are able to attend in person and continue to let us know about the issues that you encounter in your classes so we can try to help resolve these.

I am also listening and planning for the Spring 2021 semester. Last week, I met several groups of faculty and administrators to understand what has worked well so far and the challenges they continue to face in their classrooms. In the coming weeks, I’ll be meeting with various student groups across campus and will use this feedback to improve the teaching and learning environment during Spring semester.

One thing that we are hearing from our faculty and students is that everyone is missing the personal connections that organically arise in a more traditional class environment—you know, those conversations that unfold as you are leaving class together and that sometimes develop into a more sustained connection. We are also hearing concerns about student loneliness and mental health and the difficulty that many students—especially first-year students, both undergraduate and graduate —are having adjusting to UGA, finding their place and growing as individuals. To help address these challenges, we have created two new programs for the fall semester: Connect seeks to bring together faculty and students while DawgsTogether hopes to connect first-year students with student leaders.

A Connect network will consist of a faculty member who will meet with a small number of students – individually or as a group – five or six times this semester. Meetings could be virtual or in person. Activities might include coffee, lunch, a book or movie discussion or a mix of these formats or something else entirely depending on the network. The idea is to foster connections with a faculty member and help you feel connected to the University and to your academic goals. Your cohort of students would ideally be somewhere between three and five students. The connection could be based on disciplinary expertise, avocational interests, or just curiosity. If you are interested in learning more and joining a Connect network, send a message to ovpi@uga.edu with Connect in the subject line. We’ll get you started.

The second program that we’re launching this month is DawgsTogether: A Peer Allies Program. DawgsTogether connects incoming first-year and transfer students with peer leaders to explore campus opportunities, get connected, discover academic support networks, and foster a success-oriented mindset. The program, which is a partnership of the Division of Academic Enhancement, the Division of Student Affairs and New Student Orientation, gives incoming undergraduate students an opportunity to interact with a trained Peer Ally in a variety of ways including individual or group sessions and workshops centered around Belonging, Connecting, Engaging, and Thriving. See the story below for more information on this program which launched just last week.

We also have other mentoring programs on campus which can serve as excellent resources for our students. You may be aware of the Fontaine Mentor Programs which also match students to faculty, staff or their peers and helps them build resiliency, self-efficacy and belongingness.

One last thing. We recently became aware of a scam targeting students at other University System of Georgia institutions. Students reported receiving text messages saying that they are about to be dropped from all of their courses for non-payment, and given a (non-USG) phone number to contact to prevent this. Please note that UGA will not contact you in this way. 
 
You can always validate your payment status by logging into your online account or contacting The Office of Finance and Administration through an official institutional phone number.  

I continue to seek your input to help us plan for our spring semester. If you have any thoughts about how we can support you, please send me a note at: ovpi@uga.edu. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,
Rahul Shrivastav 
Vice President for Instruction