Making a Big School Feel Smaller

When students arrive at the University of Maryland (UMD), many feel overwhelmed by the enormity of the campus and its population. That’s why College Park Scholars works so hard to make a big school feel smaller. We do this by hosting events, encouraging discussions and connecting students with faculty and staff from day one—in other words, by building community.

“Having a cohesive group of people interested in one idea ... is very powerful, and that’s one of the reasons why the Scholars living–learning experience is so special,” explains Cydnee Jordan, a sophomore public policy major and Justice and Legal Thought Scholar.    

Different academic backgrounds

A significant goal of College Park Scholars is to encourage diversity of thought—a hallmark, in our view, of a strong and vibrant community. Scholars therefore encourages students to choose a thematic program different from their major. At an individual level, this will allow for greater opportunity for interdisciplinary study. It also means students as a whole will be more likely to hear differing perspectives in their classroom discussions.

Take Scholars alum Michael Liu. A senior double majoring in accounting and information systems, he received his citation from the Science and Global Change (SGC) Scholars program. He says he enjoyed being able to further explore his interest in science, even though that was not his chosen career path.

“As one of the few business majors in SGC, I would encourage others to choose a program outside of their major, just to have the opportunity to meet other students in other fields,” Liu says.

For Jordan, differing perspectives came not just in the classroom but within the broader Scholars community. She found herself interacting with students from programs outside of Justice and Legal Thought Scholars—and eventually changed majors because she learned more about public policy from some of her friends in Public Leadership Scholars. “Scholars allows you to try so many things you wouldn’t otherwise get experience with, and that’s one of the reasons I love it so much.”

Emphasis on the living experience

As a living–learning community, College Park Scholars encourages its students to live in the Cambridge Community residence halls their freshman year. The Cambridge Community, consisting of five residence halls situated around a courtyard, is located on North Campus near The Diner and Eppley Recreation Center. (North Campus is also where most first-year UMD students reside.)

“I lived in Centreville Hall my freshman year, and it really helped me make a bunch of friends right off the bat. Going to a new university is intimidating, but being able to live with students you have classes with really helps you come out of your shell,” says Liu. “I, along with many other people, have made lifelong friends because of this living–learning experience.”

He notes that, even outside of his specific Scholars classes, starting conversations in the Cambridge Community was easy: “You can just ask someone, ‘Hey, what program are you from?’” he says.

And students who are unable to live in the Cambridge Community still have access to the residence hall where their program is located.

“Although I am a commuter student, I am granted access to the first floor of the dorm my program is housed in. This allows me to make use of the study rooms and other resources,” says Media, Self and Society Scholar Marlen Cruz. “Scholars also provided a community for me by presenting me with leadership opportunities and constantly making me aware of upcoming events.” Cruz is a Scholars peer mentor and ambassador, among other things. As a peer mentor, she serves as a resource for first-year Scholars as they navigate through various academic challenges.

There’s also the Cambridge Community Center, a building in the Cambridge Community courtyard that features study spaces and classrooms specifically for Scholars programming. “A lot of times, just going into the Cambridge Community Center will expose you to another program and their events,” Jordan says. “I also made connections through mutual friends that led me to my friends in Arts, Media Self and Society, and Science, Discovery and the Universe.”

Getting involved

A number of annual traditions help first-year students build that feeling of community from the get-go. Each fall on move-in day, Scholars Convocation rallies students together to celebrate their entrance into our community. First-year students are welcomed by Executive Director Marilee Lindemann, faculty, staff and outstanding student leaders.

The next day, Scholars students wake up bright and early to volunteer for the program’s annual Service Day. By working alongside others in their Scholars program to make a difference in neighboring communities, students get to know one another better and begin building relationships with faculty.

“Service Day really helped me get comfortable with [people from] my program specifically,” relates Liu. “It was a nice way to interact and start meeting new people.”

Jordan adds: “Service Day and Convocation were where I made a lot of friends. I also made some connections at the Block Party [in the Cambridge Community] at the beginning of the year. Activities that involved more than one Scholars program were the most impactful for me.”

The Scholars Student Advisory Board gives students another outlet to interact with people from the other Scholars programs. The Student Advisory Board exists to ensure that student input is incorporated into Scholars programming. Advisory board members meet biweekly to organize events, share ideas and serve as sounding boards for new initiatives in the community. In addition to a freshman and sophomore representative from each program, the Advisory Board includes two commuter representatives. Cruz is one of those representatives.

A number of other options exist to bring Scholars together. Scholars Promoting and Revitalizing Care (SPARC) is a student-led, Scholars-supported initiative that promotes the mental health and well-being of all members of the UMD community. Queer Talks, a group of LGBTQ students and allies in Scholars and beyond, regularly meets to facilitate dialogue. Real Talk is another group focused on dialogue; this group focuses on the experiences and needs of Scholars students of color.

“Real Talk has … helped me make friends with other students of diverse backgrounds,” Cruz says. “It has always been a safe space for me as a person of color to share my experiences, concerns, thoughts and opinions on different topics. I made friends in Real Talk by continuing conversations with fellow members even after the dialogues ended.”

Cruz says that, as a commuter student, she put in extra effort to get involved with the Scholars community “so I wouldn’t feel like an outsider looking in.” Like her, some students choose to volunteer for opportunities that involve them more with their programs and the greater Scholars community.

Others attend Scholars extracurricular activities, such as movie screenings, ice cream socials and panel events. “When I saw advertisements for other Scholars programs’ events, I just showed up,” Jordan says.

Ultimately, the level of involvement in College Park Scholars is determined by each individual student. “The first step is joining Scholars,” Liu says. “The second step is actually going out and taking advantage of all the opportunities Scholars provides.”

 

This is the last blog post in our “Choosing Scholars” series, where we highlight different aspects of the College Park Scholars program to aid high school students in making their college decision. The first blog in the series discussed the interdisciplinary aspects of College Park Scholars. The second provided student accounts of why they chose the University of Maryland as their college. The third answered some of the most frequently asked questions about Scholars.


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About the author:

Katie Bemb is a journalism major and an alumna of the Public Leadership Scholars program. She has worked in the College Park Scholars communications office since early 2016. Katie is apparently not a fan of free time, given that she seeks out new internships, jobs and campus programs each semester. Upon graduation, she hopes to use her communication skills to enact social change through domestic policy and global human rights development.

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