University of Washington Tacoma senior Joy Stewart remembers her first few weeks on campus. “I was really nervous,” she said. “It was a new thing and I had so many questions.” Thankfully Stewart had a resource she could turn to for help. “Peer advisors were the first friendly face,” she said. “They made the transition easier and helped me gain confidence.”
At the end of her first year Stewart applied to be a peer advisor. “I wanted to be that person for someone,” she said. Stewart got the job. This will be her third year in the position but her first as a Pack Advisor. The change from peer advisor to Pack Advisor reflects a shift in philosophy. “We wanted to push back on this idea that individual effort is the only factor that determines success in higher education,” said Amanda Figueroa, Director of Student Transitions Programs. “Success is also dependent on how we choose to engage with and support each other as a community of learners.”
The process of overhauling the peer advisor program began in 2016 with the Learning and Retention Council. “This is a group of leaders from across campus who are thinking holistically about how we help students succeed and persist,” said Figueroa. “One of the things we explored together is how students struggle with a sense of social belonging.”
UW Tacoma sophomore Willow Raeburn is a Pack Advisor. She decided to apply for the position based on her experience as a new student last year. “I struggled a lot during my first couple of quarters here,” she said. “I felt really isolated, that I wasn’t connected to campus and that made it hard for me to concentrate on my work.”
Like Stewart, Raeburn decided to be a Pack Advisor to help others. “I love being the person people come to when they have a question,” she said. There are a total of 12 advisors spread across four Packs. The Packs are organized by color: purple, gold, grey and black. Within each Pack are two freshman advisors and one transfer advisor.
The Pack Advisors began work over the summer during Jumpstart to Success Days and will continue in their roles until May 2019. “One unique thing about UW Tacoma’s program is that a lot of schools will hire student orientation leaders that only work through the summer,” said Figueroa. “We’re building those relationships early and continue to build on them over the course of the academic year.”
Students were randomly assigned to Packs. “We wanted to mix them up, to diversify who they’re connecting with,” said Figueroa. Participation is voluntary but Figueroa hopes students get involved. “Pack Advisors will be hosting events and organizing pack meetings throughout the year,” said Figueroa. “This is a chance for new students not only to meet people but also to provide input on the kinds of programming they’d like to see.”
The Pack Advisors borrowed an idea from the business world to create a sense of healthy competition. “Coopetitions” are meant to be mutually beneficial. “One of the ideas that’s been floating around is to throw a pizza party for the first Pack who gets 50 members to check into the Teaching and Learning Center,” said Figueroa. Sure, one Pack gets the pizza but everyone who takes part will gain something valuable. “We want everyone to feel they learned something which is why so many of our coopetitions will be centered around finding resources or getting connected to people,” said Raeburn.
Stewart graduates in June and will leave the Pack Advisors. The program’s design is meant to foster organic leadership with members of a Pack applying to be Pack Advisors. However, students don’t have to be front and center. “There are different personalities,” said Stewart. “Some people may want to come to an event but not really mingle — and that’s fine.” Raeburn concurs. “We’re here to support you, whatever that means. Sometimes that means talking, sometimes that means playing and sometimes that means just being there.”
John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or firstname.lastname@example.org