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An 18-year-old may have thousands of “friends” on social media but feel hopelessly alone the first time they set foot on a college campus. It’s a problem common to many incoming first-year students or other students new to campus.
Here’s advice that Pitt staff and students have to offer.
Join a club
Get to know the more than 400 Pitt student organizations at this year’s Student Activities Fair on Aug. 28, 2022, outside the William Pitt Union. Just about every interest or passion is covered. To name a few: the Pittsburgh Equestrian Club, Chinese Card Games Club, a Polish Culture Club and MASPEAK — an advocacy-oriented group formed by Jewish students after the October 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.
Anyone who misses the fair can find all the groups listed on an online directory, which is searchable by categories and keywords. And, because we can’t help ourselves, a few more clubs include several a cappella singing groups, a ballet club and a ballroom dance club. Drama buffs can enjoy the Red Eye Theater Project, a 24-hour theater festival held multiple times throughout a semester and Musical Theatre Club, a Red Eye collaborator and group that provides its members with opportunities on and off stage for cabarets and productions on across campus. Active Minds is a group that focuses on mental health awareness. And cultural groups abound, ranging from the Arabic Language and Culture Club to the long-standing Black Action Society. Not to mention Ukrainian, Bengali, Irish, Korean, Filipino groups and more.
“The more involved a student is, the more likely they are to be successful,” said Lynne Miller, coordinator of the Student Organization Resource Center. “They build leadership, they learn to network and apply what they’re learning in the classroom to the outside world.”
Miller added that many students are attached to Pitt through their experience with an organization beyond their years on campus. At Homecoming, which runs Oct. 6-9 this year, Pitt alumni often return to seek out connections with the Pitt Program Council, the Student Government Board or whatever club made their Pitt experience meaningful.
Share an interest? Share a residence hall.
Pitt’s Living Learning Communities are an ideal way to make friends who share the same interest. Each LLC has a distinct theme, be it music, nursing, innovation or service to others. The LLC members live in the same residence hall and enjoy guest lectures, excursions and other activities related to their themes. Some communities are for first-year students, others for returning students and some for all students.
Director of Residence Life Amanda Ries, said: “Research shows that students who participate in an LLC have higher academic success rates, high college graduation rates and an easier time connecting with their peers.”
Some LLCs do require students to register for specific courses. And although students apply to an LLC during their housing application process, if a particular LLC is not full, other students may still join after the academic year has begun, but this is only applicable to smaller LLCs.
Ries said feedback from LLC members shows it allowed them to get quickly connected to friends and more easily form study groups in a more specific way than in a traditional residential hall experience.
Be of service
Pitt offers hundreds of opportunities to give back to the community on a local, national or international scale. PittServes is open to the entire Pitt community, and director Chaz Kellem said students participate in a wide variety of service experiences, including planting a community garden, reading to and mentoring children, visiting veterans, cleaning up neighborhoods and so much more.
Kellem said there are initiatives students seem to gravitate to and attend in large groups, such as Civic Action Week. This campus-wide event for students, faculty, staff and the broader community educates, engages and encourages collective responses to pressing social issues.
Other service days and events include the MLK Day of Service in January and Be a Good Neighbor Day in March. If none of those days fits into your schedule, the Office of Engagement and Community Affairs has an engagement map with hundreds of opportunities to explore throughout the year.
Kellem said volunteering is a great way to meet new people and can help in other ways, too.
“Learning, growing, exploring one’s values, developing critical thinking and hands-on skills — these are all additional benefits,” he said.
The volunteer portal on the PittServes page allows students to enter search information that can be filtered by who they would like to serve and what kind of work they’d like to do. There are links to all of Pitt’s many partnering organizations as well as information on the Student Civic Engagement Council and other leadership opportunities.
Graduate students face different challenges
The hectic life of a graduate student can sometimes seem to interfere with making personal connections. While finding the time to meet people can be challenging, it’s an important factor to overall health and success.
Reaching out to other students working near your lab or office or conversing with students at seminars are a few ways to make new connections. You can also get involved with a department’s student group or the Graduate and Professional Student Government.
Samuel Dienel is a pre-doctoral fellow in neuroscience who also attended Pitt his undergraduate degree. He advised that it’s important to meet people outside of your immediate circle so that you won’t struggle later to find meaningful relationships.
“Try to meet people outside of your grad program,” he said, adding that living in an apartment in Lawrenceville enabled connections with neighbors in the same age group.
As far as spots for grad students to unwind on campus, Dienel suggests the lawn on Schenley Plaza or Nordy’s in the lower level of the William Pitt Union.
Jay Darr, Pitt’s associate dean of students for wellness, offered these suggestions for making connections on campus:
Do what you do
Look for ways to get involved with people by doing things you ordinarily do throughout the day. Eat with others, sit with new people in class or find a study or exercise partner.
Build on your interests
Engage in activities in which you have a genuine interest. This will place you in situations where you will meet people.
Use campus resources
There are hundreds of campus clubs and organizations. Remember, start with your interests.
Ask for help
Check out TAO-Therapy Assistance Online — an interpersonal relationship and communication pathway module that enhances your knowledge about how relationships develop naturally and how to communicate during this process.
And if you’re really struggling, remember that the University Counseling Center has people and resources to help.
Focus less on the past
Don’t judge new people based on past relationships. Instead, try to see each person you meet from a new perspective.
This story has been updated.
July 18, 2022, note: Shenay Jeffrey is the new director of the Office of PittServes