This August, first year students across the country entered college during a global pandemic. With in-person contact limited, it is more difficult than ever to feel part of the larger campus community.
Drake University’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication started a program to bring 54 first-years and 24 upperclass students together this fall.
Kelly Bruhn, associate dean of the SJMC, was the driving force behind the initiative, which takes the commonly heard phrase “SJMC Family” to a whole new level with a mentorship system similar to the Bigs and Littles found in Greek life.
Bruhn started by reaching out to upperclass students, and found many promising mentors.
“Our Bigs are really active on campus, whether that’s through Drake Broadcasting Systems or Times-Delphic or the radio station,” Bruhn said. “There’s lots of different things that our students lead and do, so I was hoping this would be a way for those mentors to talk through students and connect them with other opportunities on campus.”
Two to three Bigs were grouped with six to seven first-years.
“We dug into some research about best practices on mentorship, and some students had great experience with one-on-one, but the majority did not,” Bruhn said.
The program transcends the SJMC, aiming to help students in all walks of Drake life.
“[The goal is] feeling connected to the SJMC, yes, but also trying to get [first-years] connected on campus in that first year and living the Drake experience,” Bruhn said.
Madeline Cisneros, a first-year and a Little, found the program to be less helpful than she’d hoped.
“I got an email a couple weeks before school started, they introduced themselves, and asked if we were okay with making a group chat,” Cisneros said. “No one responded, so I felt really confused and didn’t respond either.”
While communication has been sparse, the SJMC Family program still provided her with two sources of contact in the SJMC.
“I have their contact information, so if I really need to talk to someone, I could go to them,” Cisneros said. “I trust that they’re a good resource, but I just don’t really know them.”
Kyle Tekautz, SJMC orientation leader and Big, attributes the communication issues to competition with the other first-year programming.
“Their PMACs were sending them emails, there’s all this student programming, so there’s almost an overload,” Tekautz said.
Tekautz hasn’t given up on his SJMC Family, though.
“I’m letting it simmer this first month,” Tekautz said. “I’m letting them settle in with their PMAC, and then I’m going to try and bring it back in this upcoming month.”
Despite the challenges, Bruhn is optimistic and is looking to the future.
“I have seen people who had never been on yearbook or any kind of publication that are now going to be a part of Drake Mag or DBS just because of that Big/Little relationship,” Bruhn said. “I think it has been a really positive addition and I hope it will stay post-COVID.”
Upperclass SJMC students who want to be Bigs for Fall 2021 can email firstname.lastname@example.org.