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New courses, social hub activities give online program a fresh look, extend its reach beyond new students.

scene of the Old Well peaking through the leaves of a tree with red berries across Cameron Ave. from the Well.
(photo by Donn Young)

Carolina Away, launched in fall 2020 to serve students new to UNC-Chapel Hill who needed an all-remote learning experience, will continue into spring 2021 with new courses, engaging new programming and a broader scope.

The program will continue to serve first-year and transfer students in their transition to college and to Carolina, as it did in the fall, with remote instruction, tailored advising and online small-group experiences with classmates. What’s new for spring is an expanded opportunity for other students — including those on campus taking some in-person classes — to explore the university digitally and to meet classmates online and participate in programming through a new Social Activity Hub created by Carolina Away student ambassadors. Movie nights, Tar Heels game watch parties and virtual social gatherings were some of the activities the ambassadors organized in the fall, and more events are planned for spring.

In addition, Carolina Away will offer eight courses as part of its Opportunity Curriculum. Although designed for Carolina Away participants, these spring courses are open to all students. The one- and two-hour electives — some graded, some pass/fail — focus on contemporary topics such as “Closing the Prosperity Gap,” “Confronting Antisemitism” and “Global Health Issues.” “First Year Thriving” is a course that assists students with transitioning to a research-intensive liberal arts institution and the pathways to academic success and well-being.

“Something I found throughout my experience with the class was that it was a lot more relaxed and refreshing compared to the other intro classes I took as a freshman,” said Mohana Murarisetty, who took “Data Science for COVID-19” in fall 2020 as a Carolina Away first year student. She said the class allowed her to develop relationships with her classmates through small-group projects “rather than being stuck in a 200-person Zoom call.”

“Carolina Away allowed me to meet new people and access resources like tutors and advisors very easily,” said Bhagyashree Behera, who goes by “BB.” The first-year student enjoyed the experience so much she became a student ambassador for the program. “I realized there was a disconnect among the students at UNC. I wanted to help create a more social environment and a sense of community among them,” she said.

New this semester are two courses focusing on careers that are being offered online for the first time. “Career Explorations” is designed for first- and second-year students to help identify and hone their interests and strengths and to make academic decisions such as selecting a major based on this knowledge. “Career Planning and Job Searching” is for juniors and seniors to ready themselves for the job market after graduation.

“These career-focused courses came about in direct response to feedback we received from Carolina students in surveys,” said Rudi Colloredo-Mansfeld, academic director of Carolina Away and senior associate dean for social sciences and global programs in the College of Arts & Sciences. “Students are eager to focus their Carolina education and discover their interests, and they also want to be intentional about launching their careers in a world that has been greatly changed by the pandemic.”

First-year student Lorelai Sykes said she appreciated the academic support she received in the Carolina Away program. “Despite the physical barriers due to COVID-19, I felt like Carolina Away worked to make sure my questions and concerns as a student were always welcomed,” she said.

She, too, is now working as a Student Ambassador for the program. “Recently, we have had movie nights where students can join a Zoom and just chat with us while watching a movie. We also have had larger academic advising events where any student can come and get the online support they need,” she said. “In the spring, we plan to have many more events where students learn about their resources online and on campus, like research opportunities, internships, jobs and more. We also have a few giveaways coming up, basketball watch parties, game nights, etc.”

Students can learn more about Carolina Away at its website and on Facebook and Instagram.

By Geneva Collins, College of Arts & Sciences

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