PROFILE: Student Peer Leader Says Learning Communities Craft Connections
Laura Deller is from a family of Bearcats but says she was so intimidated on her first big day here that she burst into tears. Now, she praises UC’s learning communities at Bearcat Bound Orientation and is co-captain of the peer leaders for the program.
Date: 8/15/2005 8:00:00 AM
By: Dawn Fuller
Phone: (513) 556-1823
Photos By: Andrew Higley
Parents and new students might recognize Laura Deller after participating in Bearcat Bound Orientation over the summer months. That’s because the UC junior from Bridgetown leads five introductory sessions about UC’s learning communities, and the international affairs and German studies major says she gets an overwhelmingly positive response to a program aimed at building the vital connections for first-year students that will keep them on track toward a college degree.
UC’s learning communities consist of groups of 25 or fewer first-year students that take more than one course together. These groups also participate together in activities outside the classroom. UC’s 112 learning communities are housed in nearly every college, as well as the Honors Scholars Program and the Center for Access and Transition. More than 1,000 of UC’s first-year freshmen participated in a learning community over the last academic year and nearly 2,000 will participate in a learning community this fall.
Pamela Person, director of UC’s First-Year Experience and Learning Communities Programs, says learning communities build friendships, study groups and a network of support for students who share similar interests. By building these support networks, students realize that they can enjoy the feel of a smaller community on the campus of a large university.
“Many of our students expect that when they come to UC, they’ll be one of the masses and that no one will listen to them or care about their success,” Person explains. “Laura’s story is one example of how UC reaches out to listen to each of our students from their very first interactions with the university.”
“At first I was so overwhelmed at UC Orientation that I just didn’t think I could do it all,” Laura recalls. “I had always been on the honor roll and was always in the top 10 percent of my class. But when I first set up my schedule with all of my activities and my class load, it seemed like I was going to be going to class from 8 a.m. straight through 5 p.m.”
Laura says her academic advisor at the time, Paula Breslin, saw her distress and helped her get her priorities in order. “She really calmed me down. I was in tears. She asked me questions about subjects that interested me and I told her I liked politics, and so she suggested that I join the pre-law learning community.”
Laura took Paula’s advice and now works as a peer leader for the pre-law learning community. She says the program helped her realize that as large as UC first seemed to be, it was a personal, vital place where she could form friendships, learn, study and play. “At first, the university seemed so large. I came from Oak Hills High School, and that’s a really big high school here in Cincinnati. But I was never in a class that had hundreds of students, and where a teacher might need a microphone for everyone to hear.
“The learning community helped me get comfortable, and it made me accountable, because if I didn’t show up for class, someone was calling me, asking me where I was,” Laura says. “Also, as a commuter, making those friends through my learning communities helped me build a support network similar to the students who live on campus. Without those friendships and study groups, I would have just driven to class and driven home.”
Laura is co-captain of the 14 peer leaders of UC’s learning communities. The peer leaders are in charge of learning communities’ activities that take place outside of the classroom. The peer leaders meet with their learning communities for one hour twice a week, and then the peer leaders meet with each other once a week. A good number of those meetings include a college-student staple: pizza.
“We’ll have pizza events and invite professors to give pointers about preparing for midterms, or I’ve also brought in guests from the Center for Exploratory Studies to help students narrow down their own interests from UC’s many academic programs,” Laura says. “At the beginning of fall quarter, I like to give them the ‘inside scoop’ on how to walk the campus by taking pathways through different buildings. You can walk from Langsam Library all the way to the Crosley Building without ever going outside, and that’s ideal to know when you’re here during winter quarter.”
Laura’s success from her own learning community experience is building on her family legacy of Bearcats. Her father, Jim, graduated from UC with a degree in accounting. Her brother, Jimmy, is a senior communication and Spanish major, and her mother, Jane, had attended UC as an accounting major.
In addition to her role as a peer leader for learning communities, Laura works in the Center for First-Year Experience and Learning Communities office and regularly promotes learning communities to prospective students at information fairs.