BY ROBBY JOHNSON republished from UBNow
Published August 27, 2018
Going to a school as large as UB can be daunting for many incoming freshmen and transfer students, which is why the Office of Student Engagement is committed to creating new ways to foster a sense of community and belonging for those new to UB.
“We saw a need of helping students who are new to our community to find their niche,” said Rachel Di Domizio, a community engagement coordinator in the Office of Student Engagement. “One of the complaints students have about UB is that it’s so big and overwhelming at first. They feel like they’re never going to find where they fit in and we wanted to be intentional about a way to make a big campus feel small.”
With that need in mind, Student Engagement reached out to its partners in the Buffalo community and developed Ready… Set… Buffalo!, a week-long program packed full of service work and activities for students new to the university.
Over the course of the week before the fall semester, new students stayed in a hostel in downtown Buffalo and had a chance to connect with each other while making a difference in the community. The program was such a success that it returned for its second year this August.
“We saw some really great outcomes after starting this last year,” said Di Domizio. “Students emailed us after participating and they were really gracious and thanked us for organizing it. Many of them said they made lifelong friendships in just the course of a few days and we know that the students still spend time together.”
Along with forging new friendships, Di Domizio also saw that many students participated in other programs Student Engagement offered.
“We see a lot of them continuing to sign up for opportunities and programs through our office,” she said. “They’ve applied to be student engagement ambassadors, they’ve done alternative break trips, and they’ve done days of service.”
This year’s schedule was extensive as students attended Shakespeare in the Park at Delaware Park, a Buffalo Bisons game, and a Buffalo river history tour after community service with organizations like 716 Ministries and the International Institute of Buffalo.
By the end of the program, students said that the experience was worth it and that the connections they made were invaluable.
“At first I just expected to get some community service done and get to know the school better,” said Shamari Dorns, an incoming freshman architecture student. “But along the route and through the whole process I met a lot of new friends and a lot of great people. Rachel is like a mother figure to us and everyone bonded together as soon as we met.”
“We all became a very close and tight-knit team,” added Emily VanSkyock, an incoming freshman majoring in exercise science. “I came from six hours away and I already feel like I’m a part of the Buffalo community because I’ve helped and done so much here.”
The highlight of the entire experience for many students was helping the International Institute of Buffalo’s support of refugee families. Each student helped provide a family with needs like clothes, kitchenware, toys and school supplies that were donated to the organization.
“[Working with refugee families] was so rewarding to see how thankful and caring they were,” said VanSkyock. “Seeing how excited they were to be here and that we were there to help them start their journey here in America was incredible.”
“When we worked with the refugees things got really personal,” noted Dorns. “We’d hold their children, help them try on coats, and it was really fun. Overall, the experience taught me new things about myself and made me more open minded.”
Also joining the new students for the ride were student leaders that have been heavily involved in UB’s Student Engagement office. After community service activities, the leaders guided conversations that helped participants in the program reflect on what they experienced.
“This definitely helped me become a more outgoing leader and not just a quiet follower,” said Colin Douglas, one of the student leaders. “It’s great to get to know all of these new students and I’d recommend getting involved to everybody.”
For Kenechi Oti, a transfer student studying mathematics, these conversations and experiences were an asset for personal growth.
“It’s eye-opening for me and it definitely put a lot of things into perspective,” he said. “I’ve enjoyed this a lot. I got to meet new friends and explore the city while helping people and making real change in the community.”
With an exciting week behind them, the students are now ready for their next chapter as university students and making a difference along the way.
“I definitely look forward to seeing my new friends around on campus and just seeing what else there is to do,” said Dorns. “This is just the start of many other things I hope to do here.”
Sustainable Development Goals:
11. Sustainable cities & communities: Developing safe, resilient and sustainable places to live
17. Partnerships for the goals: Revitalizing global partnerships for a sustainable future and strengthen the implementation of these goals