Students connect in new campus-wide mentoring program

This fall, Student Senate launched a mentoring program that pairs upperclassmen with underclassmen to help students to break out of their normal social circles. The partners were encouraged to take a photo together every time they hung out and submit their photos for a raffle drawing. By early December, Campus Connections had collected over 90 photos.

Eva Lapp and Brynn Godshall have a lot in common: they both sing in the Women’s World Music Choir at Goshen College, like ice cream and share a passion for peace studies. But Lapp, a junior from Goshen, and Godshall, a freshman from Lancaster, Pa., might never have become friends if not for a new student-led initiative called Campus Connections.

Last September, Student Senate launched a peer-to-peer mentoring program designed to build bridges between upperclassmen and underclassmen on campus. The idea emerged during conversations about social divisions with Jan Zawadzki, a German international student who graduated in April.

Zawadzki’s vision for a more integrated student body prompted student leaders Hans Weaver, a 2013 graduate from New Holland, Pa., and David Zehr, a sophomore from Elkhart, Ind., to brainstorm ways to bring diverse students together.

“We were getting this not from just one corner of the campus, but from a lot of different groups,” said Zehr. “There was a sense of wanting to connect with different people—getting past some of the barriers and misunderstandings on campus.”

From there, Campus Connections was born. The aim of the program, said Weaver, is to get students out of their normal social circles by pairing them with peers they might not otherwise have a chance to meet—specifically, students in different classes. First-year students are partnered with juniors, while sophomores are matched with seniors.

The Campus Connections leaders initially hoped that 30 students would sign up for the budding program. To their surprise, more than 100 came to the first meeting. That week, a committee of students used surveys and their personal knowledge of individuals to intentionally match people they thought would be compatible.

Once students were paired up, they were encouraged to meet with their partners throughout the semester to grab coffee together, attend a Maple Leafs soccer game or just say hi in the hallway. Each pair was left to determine when and how they would meet.

For Lapp and Godshall’s first meeting, they agreed to bake together in Lapp’s campus apartment.

“But neither of us is very good at baking, so instead we did our best to finish the enormous tub of cookies ’n cream ice cream in her freezer so she could use the container for something else,” said Godshall. “It was a lot of ice cream.”

The two women talked about their families, classes and interests and quickly discovered they had a lot in common. In the following months, Lapp and Godshall met for lunch and chatted whenever they ran into each other at choir practice or around campus. “It is nice to have another good connection on campus that I can send random mail to, or hug, or just say ‘hello’ to as we pass on the sidewalk,” said Lapp.

Both said they benefitted from hearing the perspective of someone in a different class.

“The most rewarding part was making a friend who is so comfortable with the campus that she provided lots of helpful tips and information that I wouldn’t have gotten from my freshman friends,” said Godshall. “She actually introduced me to the world of peace, justice and conflict studies, which is now my major!”

Lapp and Godshall had no trouble connecting with each other, but the leaders of Campus Connections weren’t sure all the pairings would work out so well. To create a little incentive, the program gave each participant one free drink at Java Junction, the college’s on-campus coffee shop—but only if they went with their partner.

The pairs were also encouraged to take a photo together every time they hung out and submit their photos for a raffle drawing. By early December, Zehr had collected over 90 photos of students eating together in the dining hall, smiling over lattes, working out in the Recreation-Fitness Center—even canoeing together. From the photo submissions, several students were randomly selected to win a gift certificate to a local restaurant of their choice.

A recent survey and conversations with participants confirmed that many partners met on a semi-regular basis or at least felt happy that they got to know someone new.

“If a couple of pairings go really well, if there are some great bridges built, some great social groups breaking through and some new ones created, we’ll be extremely happy,” Weaver said.

– By Ariel Ropp