June 29, 2010
To facilitate greater connections, all first-year students participate in The Rollins College Conference (RCC). With 30 different seminar classes to choose from, a small group of 15-17 students is teamed with a professor with whom they explore a subject of mutual interest through reading, writing and experiential learning. Launched in 1994, Rollins was one of the first colleges to offer this style of seminar courses and most colleges and universities have followed suit.
“What sets our courses apart is that they are all taught by full faculty members,” Harte explained. This faculty member becomes the students' academic adviser for his/her entire academic career at Rollins. "In addition, two upper-class students team up with the professor to mentor all the students."
This faculty/peer mentor team assists the new students with adjusting to college life both inside and outside of the classroom. The aim is to enhance the college experience and increase retention by making students feel part of the Rollins family as quickly as possible.
“These courses build a sense of community,” said RCC Faculty Director Mario D’Amato. “Students join together in the classroom, on service learning experiences, on field trips, in their residence halls, and during social events. They get to know each other, their faculty advisers, and their peer mentors really well throughout all the experiences and activities incorporated in their RCC.”
Professors from the full range of academic disciplines design courses that are filled with core course content but that also introduce the material in a way that’s highly engaging. D’Amato, for example, teaches a religious studies course titled Fight Club, God, and The Buddha, which studies religious themes presented in popular culture.
“Each student is hand-selected into their RCC in a process that takes into account extracurricular activities and previous academic experiences,” said D’Amato. This process takes place over the summer by a committee who individually matches each new student with their RCC.
The upfront personalized attention continues on through the peer mentor program. Peer mentors receive more than 75 hours of training in the summer and then go through advanced training throughout the academic year. Peer mentors participate in weekly classes and discussion forums that provide accountability, leadership and citizenship training and support.
Peer mentors begin communicating with their “mentees” soon after acceptance, using a variety of formats from hand-written letters to Facebook messages to blogs. “By the time a student comes to Rollins, I've already talked to them and their parents several times. We know every new student personally before the fall session begins,” said Laura Berk (Class of 2012), a peer mentor for two years who now serves as a student coordinator.