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Scavenger hunts in Con Hall? How First-Year Learning Communities help undergrads adapt

Program celebrates a decade of ensuring students make the transition

Corey Goldman with FLC students Janice Phe, Sinan Ulusoy, Banaz Al-Khalidi and Leanne Tran in 2005 (photo by Liam Sharp)

It was a bracing but none-too-promising start to the science of economics.

“I bombed my first test,” Mary Ma, a Rotman Commerce student, recalled. “I was so scared. I didn’t know how to tackle the subject.”

But tackle it she did, by joining the Faculty of Arts & Science First-Year Learning Communities (FLC) program.

Participants past and present of the program gathered recently to celebrate 10 years of supporting undergraduate students in their academic, professional and social development.

“In any given year, FLC creates small communities within the larger U of T community,” said first-year initiatives coordinator Adam Doyle.

“It was important for us to bring together this larger community and celebrate.”

photo of Corey Goldman with students who returned for the reunionSince 2005, FLC has been guiding first-year students in making the transition to university. (At right: Corey Goldman, associate professor, teaching stream, with former FLC students at the tenth anniversary reunion/ photo courtesy Faculty of Arts & Science)

Ma remembers the benefits of one-on-one attention. “My assistant peer mentor gave me a lot of tips on how to study economics and prepare for exams.”

There are 750 students enrolled in 32 FLC groups throughout the Faculty of Arts & Science. They gather in groups devoted to the life sciences, economics, computer science and philosophy.

“Everybody in my group was geared toward the health field,” said Marissa Lee, past mentee in the life sciences program. “We motivated each other to do well, and we did. In fact, most of the students went on to careers in health.” 

“My mentor mentioned the research opportunity program,” added Julie Jo, now a student in the School of Public Policy and Governance. 

“I ended up applying to the program and worked as a research assistant for two years. That experience enabled me to work for different professors and that’s how I was able to enrol successfully in my master’s program.”

FLC founder Corey Goldman, associate professor, teaching stream, and associate chair (undergraduate) of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology, draws attention to what he regards as the program’s greatest strength outside of academic support: making friends.

“Many peer mentors say it’s the single best experience they’ve had at the university, period,” Goldman said.
Developing a small close-knit group of friends is especially important for commuter students.

“FLCs enrich your undergrad life because you’re no longer just going to class,” said Susan Truong, who participated as a mentee in 2006. “It helps you make lifelong friends.”

Although the program was designed to enhance the university experience for first-year students, mentees often remain in the program by becoming assistant peer mentors or peer mentors.

“One of my most memorable moments was as a mentor for FLC,” said Rida Anmol. “I remember that my mentees thought Con Hall was so intimidating.

“I decided we would do a scavenger hunt. Afterwards the students felt they owned the space. Once they were comfortable, they felt confident and didn’t feel intimidated by the structure and grandeur of the space.”

Past mentor Angela Chen says the experience is not just about words. “They often don’t remember what a mentor said, but they remember how mentors made them feel. It’s that feeling we want to foster.”

Emily Johnpulle is a writer with the Faculty of Arts & Science at the University of Toronto