When I signed up for a Learning Community before my first year, I thought it was going to be more like a club, so I just signed up for the Responsible Design one to go with my architecture major. I found out when I moved in that I was going to be in this group of about 15 people who were in the Learning Community too. Right away, our mentor met with us and took us to this welcome event. I didn’t know anyone beforehand, but we all ended up hanging out throughout that first week of classes and quickly became friends.
A Learning Community is basically a community for first-year students with the same major or interests, but my friends and I always thought of it more as like a family. That's what we’d call ourselves—because you're living in the same area of the dorms with these people and you have a lot of your classes together and you're constantly having group events or study hours with your mentor. It’s kind of like a jumpstart to making friends and having that academic support system.
In high school, I stayed in most weekends and studied a ton, with the mindset that I'd just try to get through it. Making friends was really hard, and I struggled with that, but I hoped college would be a fresh start. After moving in, we did this activity where we anonymously put our biggest worry about college in this bowl and then read each other’s. My worry was that I wouldn’t make any friends here.
A few months later, the other students in my LC had become some of my best friends. College is so different than high school because nobody cares about who's popular and everyone just wants to do their own thing and help each other. We all have our own groups that rely on each other, and the university has many resources that help people find their niche. I think Learning Communities are just a really straightforward resource for that.
Being in an LC was good for me socially, but my friends and I also took our academics seriously, and we all pushed each other to be better. Our goals and aspirations were really diverse—some people wanted to work in a huge firm, then one of my other friends wanted to do more small scale, residential stuff within her own community. Everyone had their own way of viewing things and their own tastes, so being able to work together and get honest feedback from such a diverse group of people was a great thing to have.
Seeing the work others in my LC have done has really made me challenge myself and vice versa. We all talk about who's going to intern where, and if we have a resume or a portfolio that we're working on, we'll send it out to the group and have each other review it—even now, three years later.
Mentored to Mentor
After my first year in an LC, my mentor told me that her position was opening up and she thought I should apply for it, so I gave it a shot. I knew how much being part of one had changed my college experience, and I wanted to help make the difference for other students.
A lot of times, I work with my mentees on academics and show them things that I learned along the way. I'll tell them, “don't make the same mistake I made when I did this project—you should do it this way. It's a lot easier.” I also set up tours for them with site visits to actual architecture firms. We did a firm-crawl where we went to three different firms so they could see how different firms work to get a better idea of what they want to do and make connections with professional architects.
I’ve been a mentor for three years now and I try to do more and be better each year. I think just seeing all those students and their different life stories has made me a better person. I always tell them, I'm on-call 24/7, you can call me whenever. I try to act more like a friend than a mentor to them, and I try and keep it real so that they know I'm really there for them. They can come and talk to me about anything, not just academics. I've even had students reach out to me about their struggles with mental health, and I’ve helped them get connected to the resources they needed.
Joining an LC my first year ended up being one of my best decisions in college. I found a group that I wouldn’t have otherwise. I never would have thought that I'd have friends from so many different areas, and that we would become so close. Even today, some of the people in my LC are still some of my best friends.
It's key to have a group in college, because it’s so much harder to do it alone. You need someone to talk to, to support you—you need friends that back you up, and push you so that you can do your thing really well. I don't think I could have accomplished all I’ve done as a “lone wolf.”