It is more important than ever for first-year students to feel an initial sense of belonging as Longhorns. From icebreakers to joining student organizations, mentors can help students make lasting connections with each other and The University of Texas at Austin.
Before the Semester Starts
Mentors play a crucial role in building connections with students even before their first First-Year Interest Group (FIG), Transfer-Year Interest Group (TrIG), or 360 Connection seminar. One of the best ways to do so is to make a brief video (one to two minutes in length) introducing yourself as their mentor before the start of the semester. That way, your students will have at least one familiar face as they begin classes. We encourage you to share the following information when creating your video:
- Major, or plans after graduation
- Favorite activities, hobbies, or passions
- Family or siblings
- Interesting facts about you
- An aspect of UT that you love
- What you are most looking forward to about being a mentor
You can also create a Canvas introductory page within the main Canvas page.
Community agreements allow everyone to feel safe and build trust within a group. Everyone agrees on a few basic guidelines that they will abide by to create respect, belonging, and openness within the group. Explore some examples of these in person guidelines, as well as guidelines for online groups.
Icebreakers provide an opportunity for you and your students to check-in, connect, and learn more about each other. In addition to the examples listed below, check out this list of engaging icebreakers that mentors can incorporate in their seminar throughout the semester.
Knowing and remembering students’ names is one of the most important ways to help students feel recognized as a member of the seminar and campus community. At the beginning of the semester, use name games to help everyone learn and practice names. One name game that requires little preparation is asking each student to share the story of how they came to have their name.
A primary focus of your seminar is providing space for your students to engage with one another, and using icebreakers is a great approach to help them create connections. A mentor can provide time for students to discuss topics such as a favorite food, sport, or UT campus landmark. The group could play “This or That,” an icebreaker where students move around the room based on their answer to a prompt, which enables students to discover similarities and differences with their peers.
Mentors can help students create experiences and memories together by using icebreakers that revolve around specific topics or pieces of knowledge. These icebreakers can be adapted to preview or review seminar content. Mentors can use a memory icebreaker to challenge individuals or small groups to memorize a random list and then discuss their approaches to the task. “Box of Lies” asks students to construct a fanciful object and describe it to their partner, who must guess whether or not the object’s description is a lie.
Every FIG and TrIG has a Canvas page associated with the weekly seminar. Your facilitator will need to add you to the seminar’s Canvas page as a TA, and the page will need to be published at the start of the semester. The Canvas page can be used not only to send emails and reminders to students, but also to upload videos, PowerPoints, and documents. You can also import resource modules from other UT offices into your Canvas page using Canvas Commons.
Many mentors create a GroupMe, a group text messaging app, to send reminders and quick messages to students as well as provide an opportunity for students to ask questions and chat with each other and the mentor outside of the seminar. You can also create a Slack channel for your students.
Add excitement to your meeting by turning parts of your seminar into a game, using websites like BingoMaker, TriviaMaker, and Quizizz. Create bingo games, flashcards, and more, using Flippity. Kahoot! lets you create learning games and trivia quizzes that students join via a link on their electronic devices. You can also use these resources to create a study day for the classes they take together.
Play games together just for fun! You can check out games from the FYE Office on specific days and times (more details will be emailed). If you’re looking for an online alternative, Jackbox requires a purchase, there are also many games available online for free, including Scrabble and Uno. Netgames has investigative games like Werewolf, Codewords, and Spyfall. Skribbl.io can be used to play Pictionary and other games. Your students can also work together to try to solve these Online Escape Rooms.
Watch and Tour
Take your students on a self-paced walking tour of campus and show them some of your favorite campus spots. Your group can take campus museums tours as well (see below). The Union offers virtual movie screenings. You can also host a TV show or movie watch party on your own using the Netflix Party Chrome extension. Look into alternative resources for creating remote movie-watching events.
Consider finding or creating videos that help your students connect to you, one another, or the UT community. You can record video directly through Canvas using the Media Recorder or upload media files from another platform. Another fun activity is viewing UT’s live falcon-watching video stream.
Engaging Outside of Seminar
Your students are likely taking one or more classes together, which means that they have a built-in study group. Mentors can set up study sessions by polling students, scheduling a Zoom meeting, and adding the meeting to the Canvas page. You can also use Zoom or another online platform to create social events outside of the regular seminar time. Library spaces can be reserved online.
If you and any of your students are comfortable meeting in person, you can find out which Austin parks and outdoor recreation spaces are open as well as open spaces in the Austin area.
Building connections with your students early is one of the best ways to help them feel a sense of belonging throughout their college experience. One-on-one meetings provide a great opportunity to check in with students to learn more about them individually, their goals and challenges, and how you can best support them throughout the semester. We recommend that you start your one-on-one meetings early. One-on-ones can be done in-person if both mentor and student are comfortable with that format. We also recommend that mentors provide time during a seminar for students to sign up for a one-on-one meeting time slot. You can consider doing one-on-ones more than once or hosting drop-in virtual or in-person office hours for students.
Connecting to the Forty Acres
The Gems of the University provide access to collections, tools, and artifacts unique to UT Austin. While some of these gems are currently closed to the public, many offer ways to interact with their resources virtually. Mentors can take their students on tours and resource finds for engaging with these museums and collections.
The Harry Ransom Center, an internationally renowned humanities research center, has exhibits available for viewing. Check the website to find out if you can take an in person or virtual tour.
The Blanton Museum of Art, the primary art collection for the city of Austin, is providing in person tours and exhibits, as well as self-guided virtual tours. You may request an “advanced online ticket” :https://blantonmuseum.org/welcome-to-the-blanton-museum-of-art/, although not required for admission.
The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, a leading history research center focusing on key themes in Texas and U.S. history, has a podcast and online resources.
The Texas Performing Arts Center, one of the most important contributors to cultural life in Central Texas, has some upcoming events.
The Waterloo Greenway on Waller Creek, a one and a half mile park system home to a wild array of natural and cultural destinations, is coordinating events.
Dr. Edmund Gordon’s Racial Geography Tour, which shows how racism, patriarchy, and politics influence the landscape and architecture of UT Austin, is available as a virtual tour with narration.