By Dr. Gretchen Mullin-Sawicki, President, NHTI
As my friend and I get ready to head off on a virtual hike (we’re both hiking in different states but talking together), I’m in awe of the ways that we, as a community, have found ways to share joy and meaning and learn together during our new COVID-19 reality. I appreciate this connection, and this led me to consider how, given the virtual nature of learning this semester, students at NHTI will be able to make and sustain new friendships. It certainly is a real concern; college is about connections, and making friends is absolutely a part of the college experience and the learning process.
We learn through engagement. When learning activities require cognition and the expression of emotion, both hemispheres of the brain ignite and we engage more readily with the lesson. At NHTI, we clearly want this to happen both formally and informally inside and outside the classroom. What it takes is planning and creativity – and, NHTI has oodles of this.
Friendships are key to building networks. They help us build grit to continue in our studies and increase the happiness factor in our lives. Our faculty members are experts in building connection between students. We use Zoom meeting rooms and employ new, virtual icebreakers; and we assign group projects and planning using Microsoft Teams and other virtual networking tools. And, of course there’s the learning that goes on outside the classroom. We all remember our college or high school friends likely more than a particular algorithm that we used for a math equation.
NHTI purposefully and intentionally creates opportunities for our students to meet through educational student life programs and plain-old fun! In our Lynx to Leadership Series, you can connect while building communication, negotiation, and self-awareness skills. And we offer virtual Pictionary, eSports, Open Mic Night, coffee chats, virtual counseling lounges, and virtual club get-togethers. The clubs are probably the best place to make new friends; you may already have interest or affinity in a subject, or you can be adventurous by joining something new. We have more than 20 clubs ranging from the Black Student Union, Alliance Club, and Environmental Club to the Gaming Club, PTK Honor Society, and Running Club. You can meet virtually and plan community service work and ways to support NHTI.
Friendships add color to our universe, and we take friendship-building seriously at NHTI. We know how an online team scavenger hunt can create casual opportunities to meet someone new; how a virtual coffee may not be the same vibe but it does the trick. These create ways for people to meet, engage, learn, and smile.