A new online community called UConnect may help reduce the stress of first-year freshmen preparing to enter college.
The office of New Student Connections (NSC) worked with GoalQuest, a company that helps universities enroll and retain students, to start the UConnect Web site for the University’s freshmen.
Open to first-year freshmen only, UConnect is a Web site where students can meet other incoming freshmen and ask questions about the University before starting in the fall.
NSC was established in 2006 to support the transition of first-year and transfer students and UConnect is another way the office hopes to do that, said Victor Teschel, a NSC graduate assistant.
“If you’re a second- or third-year student, you know where to go,” Teschel said. “But, now, if you’re a first-year student you have one particular Web site and one particular place to go to make sure you’re getting all the information you need.”
About 1,300 freshmen have signed up for UConnect within the first three weeks and the number continues to grow.
Joey Monahan, the NSC graduate assistant leading the operations of UConnect, said the Web site has gained popularity rapidly.
“For first-year students, it gives them a community to start making connections before and during their first year and it kind of utilizes the whole Facebook and Myspace thing that everyone’s interested in,” he said.
Like Facebook and Myspace, UConnect is a place to socialize. Students can upload pictures, write on their friends’ message boards and send private messages.
UConnect is different from other social networking Web sites, however, because it offers USF-specific information. The NSC office can post links and other information students may need on the site.
Freshmen can sign up for UConnect during orientation or at uconnect.usf.edu.
Monahan said many students are finding out about UConnect earlier than expected.
“We’ve noticed that there are a lot of people in the past two or three weeks that have signed up for it and they haven’t even attended orientation yet, so the word’s kind of getting out,” he said.
Keri Riegler, director of NSC, said students are already using UConnect and getting to know one another.
“They are already interacting with each other and getting to know who’s living in their hall – who’s taking the same classes as them,” she said. “I think it’ll make each person’s experience more meaningful and their connection to USF will establish so much sooner than it has in the past.”
When a student nears the end of freshman year, Riegler said, there will be closing activities before everyone is removed from the site. NSC will use the month of May to clean up the site before starting over with a new set of first-year freshman in June 2009.
Riegler said she believes UConnect has helped the NSC office reach out ot even more to students.
“We can serve as a communication link for them and a referral agent as needed, so I think we are better able to serve their needs and support them,” she said. “But they are also building connections with the institution and building an affinity for USF and I think that’s priceless.”