In the summer of 2020, when many students faced semesters of virtual learning ahead, President Claudia Schrader of Kingsborough Community College, New York, U.S., wanted to find a way to welcome new students to the KCC family.
“I always wanted to be there to meet students on their first day,” she said. “Before the pandemic, I would stand at the front gate. I’m one of those administrators who walks around the campus all the time; you find me at the cafeteria, walking the halls at events. You don’t find me sequestered in my office.”
Thus, the KCC Welcome Wagon was born. Schrader has been visiting incoming freshman and transfer students—about 60 to 70 in total, she estimates—at their homes or workplaces across the five boroughs of New York City, and sometimes Long Island. She talks to them, brings them KCC swag, and even occasionally meets their families.
She’s been maintaining COVID-19 protocols: testing, meeting students outside, and wearing a mask. Had it not been for the pandemic, however, Schrader might never have had the idea.
"It’s been a time of so much loss but also so much opportunity to think outside the box,” she said. “I was thinking about students who were coming to school that fall and what they might be feeling, maybe a little lost. So I went to their homes to say welcome to Kingsborough and get to know them.”
Many incoming students were pleasantly surprised at the personal touch. And one KCC employee, who is a friend and neighbor of the family of one student, ran down the street to bear witness, scarcely able to believe the president of the college was visiting students at their homes.
Indeed, having the college president come and literally meet the students where they are sends the message, she said, that “they are important and this journey they are about to embark on is important.”
“We’re a very high-touch institution; we give a lot of TLC [tender loving care] to students. I’m sure it happened remotely as best it could, but it was hard not to see students. We craved being around students and the energy they have.”
In addition to the Welcome Wagon visits, Schrader has found other ways to engage with students and keep the community connected. She launched monthly town hall Zoom meetings with students and started sending out weekly letters to the KCC community on a variety of topics from the Super Bowl to available resources she wanted to make sure students were aware of. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.
“Sometimes the message I get from students is, ‘How did you know I needed this right now?’”
And, she’s learned, she needed the connection that the letters, town hall meetings, and especially the Welcome Wagon has provided just as much.
“I thought I was doing it for students,” she said, “but I was probably doing it for myself because of the energy of the students—they’re the reason I do this work. I need to remind them every day that when things are looking so bleak, they were the hope I needed, and Kingsborough was the hope they needed.”
About the author(s)
Holly Leber Simmons is a writer and editor based in Silver Spring, Maryland, U.S.
Article appears in:
Diversity and inclusion, engagement, leadership: Inside the challenges and opportunities for senior diversity leaders in higher education; integrating alumni relations and development; and resetting in-person, online, and hybrid events.