An 18-year-old may have thousands of “friends” on social media, but feel hopelessly alone the first time they set foot on a college campus. It’s a problem common to many incoming first-year students or other students new to campus.
But Pitt and its current students have solutions to offer.
Join a club
Thousands of students poured into the recent Student Activities Fair at the Petersen Events Center to check out what Pitt student organizations have to offer. While about 370 clubs were represented, there are some 600 clubs overall to accommodate just about every interest or passion. New clubs include the Chinese Buddhism Club, a Polish Culture Club and MASPEAK — a group formed by Jewish students after the October 2018 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.
Anyone who missed the fair can find all of the groups listed on an online directory, which is searchable by categories and keywords. There are several a cappella singing groups, a ballet club and a ballroom dance club. Drama buffs enjoy the Red Eye Theater Project and Ruckus, an improv comedy group. Active Minds is a group that focuses on mental health awareness. Cultural groups abound, ranging from the Arabic Language and Culture Club to the long-standing Black Action Society. Irish, Egyptian, Korean, Filipino and more — the clubs are there to join.
“The more involved a student is, the more likely they are to be successful,” said Lynne Miller, coordinator of the Student Organization Resource Center. “They build leadership, they learn to network and they apply what they’re learning in the classroom to the outside world.”
Miller adds that a lot of students are attached to Pitt through their experience with an organization. At Homecoming, Pitt alumni seek out people involved with the Pitt Program Council or the Student Government Board, or whatever club made their Pitt experience just that much more meaningful.
Share an interest? Share a residence hall
Pitt’s Living Learning Communities are an ideal way to make friends who share the same interest. Each LLC has a distinct theme, be it music, nursing, innovation or service to others. The LLC members live in the same residence hall and enjoy guest lectures, excursions and other activities related to their themes. Some communities are for first-year students, others for returning students and some for all students.
Said Assistant Director of Residence Life for Academic Initiatives Amanda Ries: “Research shows that students who participate in an LLC have higher academic success rates, high college graduation rates and an easier time connecting with their peers.”
Some LLCs do require students to register for specific courses. And although students apply to an LLC during their housing application process, if a particular LLC is not full, other students may still join after the academic year has begun, but this is only applicable to smaller LLCs.
Ries said feedback from LLC members shows it allowed them to get quickly connected to a group and more easily form study groups, in a more specific way than in a traditional residential hall experience.
Be of service
Pitt offers hundreds of opportunities to give back to the community on a local, national or international scale. PittServes is open to the entire Pitt community, and director Chaz Kellem said students participate in a wide variety of service experiences, including planting a community garden, reading to and mentoring children, visiting veterans, cleaning up neighborhoods and so much more.
Kellem said there are initiatives students seem to gravitate to and attend in large groups, such as Pitt Make a Difference Day, scheduled this year for Oct. 19, which brought out 3,600 participants last year. Other service days and events include the MLK Day of Service on Jan. 20, 2020, and Be a Good Neighbor Day on March 28, 2020.
Kellem said volunteering is a great way to meet new people and can help in other ways, too.
“Learning, growing, exploring one’s values, developing critical thinking and hands-on skills — these are all additional benefits,” he said.
The volunteer portal on the PittServes page allows students to enter search information that can be filtered by who they would like to serve and what kind of work they’d like to do. There are links to all of Pitt’s many partnering organizations as well as information on the Student Civic Engagement Council and other leadership opportunities.
Graduate students face different challenges
The hectic life of a graduate student can sometimes seem to interfere with making personal connections. Kevin Mohsenian arrived at Pitt five years ago from Mequon, Wisconsin, to join the PhD program in bioengineering. He said finding the time to meet people can be challenging, but it’s an important factor to overall success.
“The friendships we garner during our late 20s and early 30s will grow and flourish for the rest of our lives, whether they are personal or professional,” said Mohsenian. He suggests reaching out to other students working near your lab or office and making small talk with students at seminars. He also advises getting involved with your department’s student group or the Graduate and Professional Student Government.
“Looking back, I wish I would have reached out more to other students and cast a wider net,” he said.
Sam Dienel is a second-year graduate student in neuroscience but was also here for his undergraduate experience. He said it’s important to meet people outside of your immediate circle so that you won’t struggle later to find meaningful relationships.
“Try to meet people outside of your grad program,” he said, adding that living in an apartment in Lawrenceville enabled connections with neighbors in the same age group.
As far as spots for grad students to unwind on campus, Mohsenian and Dienel suggest the lawn on Schenley Plaza or Nordy’s in the lower level of the William Pitt Union.
University Counseling Center Director Jay Darr offers these suggestions for making connections on campus:
Do what you do
Look for ways to get involved with people by doing things you ordinarily do throughout the day. Eat with others, sit with new people in class or find a study or exercise partner.
Build on your interests
Engage in activities in which you have a genuine interest. This will place you in situations where you will you will meet people.
Use campus resources
There are over 600 campus clubs and organizations. Remember, start with your interests.
Enhance social skills
Check out TAO-Therapy Assistance Online. It is an interpersonal relationship and communication pathway module to assist with enhancing your knowledge about how relationships develop naturally and how to communicate during this process.
Focus less on the past
Don’t judge new people on the basis of past relationships. Instead, try to see each person you meet from a new perspective.