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SuccessConnects — a University of Michigan program aimed at connecting students to helpful campus resources — hosted an orientation for first- and second-year students at Rackham Auditorium on Sunday afternoon. The program featured a series of speakers, workshops and engaging activities for new students to begin building peer relationships and get a glimpse of what SuccessConnects has planned for the upcoming academic year.
SuccessConnects is a program entering its second year through the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives. Dr. Robert Sellers, vice provost for Equity and Inclusion and chief diversity officer, created the program as a reaction to the University’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiative. It provides resources such as peer and staff advising for incoming first- and second-year students. The goal of the program is to grant students access to these resources early so they can maximize the University’s opportunities from the moment they arrive on campus.
Gloria Derr Taylor, director of the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, emphasized the program’s successful retention rate last year, with 224 students continuing of its initial class of 250. So far, 478 students have registered this year, with about 100 students attending the orientation.
According to Taylor, the program primarily targets potential scholarship students, HAIL Scholars, Detroit Promise students, first generation college students, students from rural communities, students from outside the five major Michigan counties, GEAR UP students and students from Chicago charter schools.
Taylor emphasized SuccessConnects recruits a cross-population of students.
“We try to get as broad of a base population that we can," she said. "Any student can be part of it, but we do try to target students that may not have that support that they would ordinarily have.”
The orientation began with several speakers, including keynote speaker and philosophy professor Derrick Darby.
Darby related his upbringing in New York City housing projects to assure the incoming SuccessConnects students that anyone can achieve success.
“Ordinary people can do extraordinary things by embracing the power of knowledge,” he said.
He highlighted his social justice work and his book, “Rights, Race, and Recognition,” focusing on the importance of public education as an equalizer.
“Education is leveling the playing field between the haves and the have-nots,” Darby said.
Students were broken up into three introductory workshops to give them a glimpse of the topics discussed throughout the school year, according to Taylor. One workshop focused on an overview of what it means to be a college student, the second workshop emphasized the importance of peer-to-peer relationships by connecting with other first-year students and the final workshop highlighted the University’s multicultural college environment.
Six interns assisted with planning and running the orientation event for new students. LSA sophomore Tiffany Chen interned for SuccessConnects over the summer, contacting incoming students, working on event marketing and sitting on the student advisory board, striving for a community aspect with its students.
“One of my favorite parts is the community," Chen said. "I really appreciate that these people are there for you and they are really focused on you."
Taylor explained the role of the intern student advisory board, saying, “It was a two-way street—we helped them develop individually and they helped us develop our program strategies.”
In addition to peer relationship building among the new students, the program also highlights mentorship as one of its fundamental resources. Academic Success Partners, a program from the office of AMI, involved peer-to-peer mentoring which matched an upperclassman with a freshman. The Success Coaches connected professionally trained SuccessConnects staff with incoming students.
Chen mentioned how her mentors guided her last year in choosing classes, easing into student life as a freshman and connecting her with other departments at the University that SuccessConnects has partnered.
Taylor explained SuccessConnects partnerships with the University’s library system and the Career Center in assuring that students are receiving proper assistance.
In addition, the program begins providing resources for high school students and community college students before they arrive at the University.
LSA freshman Jolyna Chiangong first heard about the program when SuccessConnects staff came to her high school to assist students with scholarship searches. She emphasized how important the mentorship aspect of the program was to her as she prepared for college.
“It wasn’t just about resources, it was also about being our person. I would call one of the mentors and they would be more than happy to answer the phone and be there for you,” Chiangong said. “Maybe we don’t need anything but sometimes we just need someone to talk to.”
Business sophomore Kevin Liu found through his first year in SuccessConnects that he would like to be a future Academic Success Partner.
“I got the most out of ASPs. It is applicable to all freshmen – not just first-generations, not just people who have scholarship,” Liu said. “Every freshman should have some sort of peer mentorship especially the first year to get that connection to the resources they may need or want.”