University of Southern California: USC Kortschak Center helps students make back-to-school connections

Amid the excitement of returning to on-campus life for the fall semester, many students also came with some social anxiety around meeting new people and dealing with unfamiliar situations.

Looking to help students nervous about the return to campus, the USC Kortschak Center for Learning and Creativity launched a series of “Back to School Connections” workshops aimed at helping provide discussions, strategies, and opportunities to practice skill-building in a safe environment. Topics included “Making and Maintaining Friends,” “Classroom Conversations” and the always complex “Communicating with Roommates.” Students had the opportunity to talk with each other and learn about starting conversations, maintaining communication with friends, approaching professors during office hours and navigating awkward roommate situations.

Ariel Ford, a first-year student who attended two of the sessions, said the conversations with other students were her favorite part of the workshops.

“By revealing how we were feeling and what we were struggling with, it formed a sense of community that made it easier to stay engaged and really learn from the workshops,” Ford said. “It also allowed me to make a new friend.”

USC student support workshops focus on communication
Rashelle Nagata, a USC Kortschak Center learning specialist and the facilitator of the workshop series, says that the courses are created with a focus on communication skills while keeping all students in mind. Whether a student has a social communication deficit or social anxiety; is an international student, transfer or graduate student; is a first-generation college student; or is simply new to campus, they will find a safe and welcoming space to connect with others.

Once you complete the hardest step of just saying ‘Hi,’ meeting others becomes a lot easier.

Ariel Ford

According to post-workshop surveys, 89% of students who attended felt that they had a better understanding of what to do in social situations and that they had less anxiety about those situations. The majority of attendees also felt that they were more willing to initiate conversations and take advantage of campus resources after the workshop.

“The activities that we did in the workshop were helpful in breaking [down] the barriers between strangers,” one student said. “I am really glad that I visited the workshop [and] got to know others.”

One of the biggest takeaways for students has been “perspective-taking” or helping to normalize the experiences of the students in attendance, Nagata has found. She says that students often feel as if they are the only person who feels anxious about all the new experiences that come with on-campus life. In reality, these experiences and worries are common for many students.

Improving self-confidence a goal of USC student support workshops
Nagata hopes workshops like these will encourage students to have empathy for one another and improve their self-confidence. She is hopeful students can acknowledge returning to campus is a difficult transition and find the many resources USC offers to support them.

It seems that many students are getting this message. One of the biggest takeaways for Ford: “Others might also feel awkward during these strange times, and once you complete the hardest step of just saying ‘Hi,’ meeting others becomes a lot easier.”

The workshop series returns to the Kortschak Center from 4-4:50 p.m. on Oct. 20, Oct. 27 and Nov. 3. Students interested in attending should register online.

The Kortschak Center hosts a variety of online and in-person workshops that provide a holistic approach to student academic, professional and personal support. Learn more about these and other resources including a quiet study room, computer lab and academic coaching sessions by visiting the center’s website.