Transitioning from high school to college can be daunting for freshmen, especially with the added stresses of virtual learning. Enter the new First-Year Beach Connections program, which aims to ease the transition by giving freshmen a space to meet new people, explore campus resources, foster a sense of belonging within the Cal State Long Beach community and connect with staff members and students called Beach Guides.
The program, inspired by a similar program at UC Davis, includes five group themes: art, music and entertainment; identity and culture; agents of change (making a difference); thrive (wellness) and Beach 101. Each of the 188 Beach Guides received curriculum, resources and reminders to integrate into their meetings with about 30 freshmen per group. More than 2,100 freshmen participated in the program, which is part of the New Student and Family Program in the Division of Student Affairs.
Freshman Kylee Khan, a self-described introvert, said she usually wouldn’t participate in programs such as First-Year Beach Connections but when she saw there were identity and culture-themed groups, she wanted to try it out.
“I’m half Cambodian and half Trinidadian, and my culture means a lot to me because it’s part of my identity,” she said. “I chose that group theme because I thought it’d be nice to hear about other people’s culture and perspectives and learn more about them.”
Beach Guides hosted weekly one-hour Zoom meetings for the first eight weeks of the fall semester and set aside an additional hour each week if students needed extra help. Afterward, it transitioned to monthly meetings.
First-year students took an assessment to place them in a group theme most relevant to their interests and were encouraged (but not required) to attend meetings and participate in the program.
In each meeting, students answer icebreaker prompts related to the group’s theme, are reminded of upcoming deadlines and events, are given campus resources, and share what they are struggling with or need help with.
“The program itself is really critical because students aren’t on campus and they do really need a person they can reach out to,” said Anna Nazarian-Peters, a Beach Guide who leads the identity and culture group Khan is in. “Having a staff member who’s a ‘touch person’ to guide them — but also interacting with their fellow peers and making those connections — is so important.”
As the program progressed, Nazarian-Peters said she saw the students in her group start to connect with each other.
“The students that regularly showed up to meetings really did benefit from the program because they were able to build those connections with each other,” she said. “I can tell my students feel more empowered to seek out help or ask questions when they need it from instructors and advisers."
Khan said the program gave her the opportunity to virtually meet with a staff member face-to-face and she was able to bond with other students going through the same things she’s experiencing. The students in her group even made a group chat to check in on each other outside of the weekly meetings.
“I love my group because even though we come from different backgrounds and majors, we’re rooting each other on,” she said. “It’s nice to have the support space and the meetings are a great time to de-stress from the week.”
Beach Guides also help their students connect with appropriate resources. One of the students in Nazarian-Peters’ group was falling behind in a chemistry class because he couldn’t type out the equations on his computer’s keyboard and didn’t have access to a printer.
After some research, Nazarian-Peters found that the chemistry department was loaning free tablets and was able to connect the student who had the resources he needed.
“There were those kinds of things that were very impactful because after that I knew the student would do well academically,” she said.
The support and reminders Beach Guides give their students is beneficial to freshmen during their first semester of college, Khan said. She almost forgot to submit her immunization records, but thanks to a reminder from Nazarian-Peters, she remembered to submit them.
“It was nice to have that reminder because as a college student your mind can get wrapped up in your classes and you may forget about other due dates,” she said.
After a successful launch, First-Year Beach Connections will continue in Fall 2021. Administrators are currently gathering data and feedback from this year’s participants to adjust and improve next year’s program.