The following writeup was inspired by a recent conversation I had with a university client. I’m currently working with her institution through our Relationships through Retention program which is designed to increase student retention by building a culture of connection and support for first and second year students. I’ve changed her name to maintain anonymity.

Going to college is a time of exploration and transformation. While college is a time for exploration, growth, and curiosity, students also often struggle with the different aspects of college life. In particular, the top question on an incoming freshman’s brain is:

Will I belong?

One of our clients, Jayme works as the Director of Student Orientation and Transition at a large university. Her job is to help usher students into college life and to ultimately help students make the connections that lead to a deeper sense of belonging.

Having come from a small town and having had the college experience, Jayme understands the joys and struggles of campus life.

One concern Jayme noted immediately in our conversation was that the Age of Technology we are living in is meant to improve us. Yet she has seen it dramatically hurt all the face to face communication that happens at a university orientation. Technology has diminished comfort with human connection—which is inherently messy. There is no backspace or time to pause or add a filter.

Face to face interaction is like a constant livestream where we become open to judgement, praise, rejection, feedback, etc.

As a result, many students find it difficult to manage in this new environment and often shutdown and head to their comfort zone. What’s more comfortable than an endless newsfeed giving us little hits of dopamine with absolutely zero social risk.

Communication is a skill that is vital in any area of life. Students come from a myriad of backgrounds, and what may seem evident to one may be very confusing to another. Jayme realized there needed to be a way to connect and share the different stories that make each person unique. Sharing stories brings people together in a way that fosters understanding, builds support and allows growth.

In fact, I would advocate that university orientation professionals have an obligation to create psychologically safe places for students to share pieces of their stories in a way that increase the odds of genuine connection.

We must relate to retain. 

Jayme discovered that, in her role, it seemed that student leaders had difficulty in knowing what conversation topics or subjects to bring up. Even further, they are questioning how to get incoming students engaged with the orientation content they have to share.

After a long search for the right tool, she started using We! Connect Cards to bring students and staff to foster a culture of connection.

As a test, Jayme first introduced We! Connect Cards to the staff and students at their retreat in January. She explained what they were, the purpose of the color-coded questions, and what she hoped could be accomplished by using them. Her intention toward connection came as a result of the concerns that had been raised by students in the past who felt disconnected from their peers. The idea is that they could be used to go beyond just an “icebreaker.”

Since our conversation, I’m happy to say that We! Connect Cards have become a “go to” tools for student orientation leaders whenever they felt stuck with their groups.

If you are interested to learn more, Get in Touch with us to learn more about how our workshops and Connection Toolkit can help your team amplify a culture of connection, belonging, and trust.


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