The coronavirus has changed the way people work and live: One population feeling it most acutely is students.
This semester undoubtedly will be different for both new and returning UC Merced students. While courses mainly will be remote this fall, UC Merced remains committed to student success no matter the learning modality.
One key feature of that commitment is a new, online space for students to connect called Student Dens. Student Dens are virtual hubs for undergraduates to develop friendships with fellow students, engage the resources of a world-class research university, and connect to the vibrant community of students, faculty, and staff at the heart of the UC Merced experience.
A champion of student success, Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Charles Nies shared, “our strong sense of community linked to student success has always been a hallmark of UC Merced. This commitment hasn’t changed with the Dens facilitating student’s connections to each other and campus resources.”
For new students, the Dens function as a place to build community with peers and structured engagement with campus staff – a point of contact for students to check-in and find resources, something that might usually happen with a resident assistant or academic advisor. For continuing Bobcats, the program provides opportunities to further develop the networks they’ve previously developed, and access campus resources virtually.
“This isn’t really new for UC Merced: We’ve always been committed to community. But now we’re just delivering it in a different way,” said Jessica Duffy, program manager with the university’s Center for Institutional Effectiveness who helped design the program.
All first-year and incoming students will be grouped into Core Dens. New student core dens, supported by a den guide (staff) and den assistant (student fellows), are organized by field of study or membership in one of UC Merced’s Living Learning Communities. Continuing students have the opportunity to participate in dens to enhance and expand the learning community and networks they have already started in their prior semesters at UC Merced.
Emphasizing support for continuing students this fall, Vice Provost and Dean for Undergraduate Education Sarah Frey said “our continuing students are familiar with campus resources, so the Dens provide an opportunity for them to hone professional networking skills and develop leadership skills through peer-to-peer support in student-led Dens based on a shared hobby or interest.”
All students can choose to create or enroll in additional den communities, which are loosely structured and student-led, based on a shared hobby or interest.
The Student Den program is anchored around four core tenets: community, lifelong learning, support, and connections. Building relationships is a core tenant of the campus’ tight-knit community where students are also encouraged to explore their intellectual curiosity. The dens will function as created spaces for social interaction, engagement, accountability, and learning at UC Merced.