For students majoring in the social sciences, like Psychology and Sociology, their first-year experience at Dean is a unique one. They have the opportunity to participate in CONNECT, a living learning community for social science majors. Students get the traditional first-year residential experience by living together in Wallace Hall, but CONNECT goes even beyond that. Students take a few of their classes together, allowing them to learn together, collaborate on projects and build relationships with faculty. They also have the opportunity to participate in social, academic and career development programs designed just for them. It’s all to surround first-year students with the connections and support they need to succeed in the social sciences.
As the community advisor for CONNECT, Natalie Lapointe ’23 makes sure her residents are safe, they’re happy and they find the resources they need. And as a fellow Psychology major, she helps them navigate their way through the program, answering questions on assignments and courses, because she’s been in their shoes.
“They’ll come to me asking, ‘Is this right? What’s this class like? What do I take after this course?’” Natalie explained. “And I’m able to tell them, ‘Here’s all the information, because I’ve been there, I’ve done it, you’ll be fine.’”
One of Natalie’s residents is Courtney Brown ’26. She’s on the women’s soccer team, in the Arch Learning Community, and as a Psychology major, part of the CONNECT program. She’s found that the program has helped her both academically and socially.
“I have connected classes with my general psychology class and my statistics class that really helped create that informational bridge between the two topics,” Courtney explained. “Also, just knowing the people in the same program being in the same space really just helps create friendships with our common interest in the social sciences.”
That shared interest in the social sciences is what brought these students together in the first place, though they all have different directions they want to go in. Natalie has wanted to become a mental health counselor since middle school and is currently looking into options for graduate school. Courtney is passionate about sports psychology and the impact that mental health has on an athlete’s performance. Meanwhile, her roommate is interested in criminal psychology. But having psychology as a common denominator has helped make the group closer as a whole and allowed them to learn and connect with each other.
Another way CONNECT has helped its students bond with each other is by hosting events that get them out of the classroom and out of their residence halls, providing the opportunity to form a deeper connection with their classmates. Early in the academic year, Natalie invited MaryAnn Silvestri, M.Ed., LMHC, director of counseling services, to come talk to the CONNECT residents about the different paths you can take with a psychology degree. Natalie also organized a karaoke night for the group with their professors – which was so successful that everyone is still talking about who was singing Madonna off-key in the lounge. But besides being fun, it helped get students outside their comfort zones and feel more comfortable with their professors and each other.
“It created that close personal bond with our professors, that really helped with classroom relationships, being more open about going to office hours, and bringing us closer,” said Courtney.
It’s a bond that started being built from the very first day of the fall semester. Though Courtney moved in early for soccer pre-season and the Arch orientation, she made it a point to be around when the rest of the CONNECT program moved in.
“When everyone else moved in, I was surrounded by people who I knew I would have classes with,” she said. “Natalie advised me to keep my door open so that people could peek in and say hi, and I could help people move in. I helped people set up fans, figure out the laundry machines, and it was definitely a bonding experience trying to get everyone moved in.”
And now, more than halfway through the academic year, it’s a bond that has only continued to grow.
“You can see the community that the CONNECT program’s goal was,” Natalie said. “You can see it right there in the building. They’ve made friends together. They come to events with each other. They know their peers that they can go to to ask questions. They work on assignments together, even for the classes that aren’t CONNECT classes. They do just about everything together.”
“I get to meet all of the incoming freshmen to campus and I get to help them align with the Dean College community,” explained Natalie. “It’s been a great opportunity and has really given me a place here on campus.”
“I’m proud to be a student-athlete here, but I’m also proud to be a psych major, part of an amazing CONNECT program and part of the Arch program,” said Courtney. “Having all those support systems is really important to being successful. You have people who want to help you around every single corner you turn.”