By Gabriela Vasquez-Rondon
We’ve all experienced loneliness, feeling like we view life from the outside rather from inside, making us suffer from a serious case of FOMO. I know I have, which is why when I learned about the First Year Student Office, or FYSO, here at Dawson, it immediately piqued my interest.
The first thing to know about the First Year Student Office is that there is no need for appointments, walk-ins are the preferred method and no question is a stupid question. That is what Geoff Kloos, Academic Advisor, and Valentina Solkin, Social Work Technician at the First Year Student office, want every student to know.
No matter how shy a student may be, the office will always welcome them and try to help them with whatever questions they might have. It is a place where students can walk in with confidence and ask where the bathrooms are, or come in for more serious matters. When talking with Geoff, he mentioned how “We all go through those moments where our problems seem like they’re insurmountable and sometimes, just by coming to this office, we can be like this is not a big deal, we can tackle this,” which is true. Geoff explains that sometimes, a student might come in and feel overly stressed because of a situation, but when taking a step back and with the help of the technicians, the problem can be fixed quite easily and on the spot.
“Dawson has a big group of services that are also willing to help but it’s just kind of easier to know that you got one place they [students] can refer to, rather than having 5 people to go see and it’s sometimes so discouraging that you don’t even go see any of the services,” says Geoff. The school offers a multitude of services and resources I did not know were available, such as the nurses on campus, a gynecologist, extra tutoring, and ways to get financial aid.
When Valentina first started out as FYSO’s Social Work Technician, she wasted no time in asking the students that came to her about the issues they were facing, about their experience at college and how it could be improved, which is how Dawson’s Connect came to be.
“We need to cure the loneliness factor,” said Valentina, “Over and over again, I kept hearing from students that they felt really isolated and that it was hard to make friends. If you’re in a program, for example, like General Social Science, it’s possible in all of your seven classes there isn’t a repeat student because it’s such a big cohort.”
In order for her project to work, Valentina got in touch with the social services DEC in order to hire students looking for internships, and Dawson’s Connect has now two interns working with the duo to make the project a reality.
“We’re building up from scratch an opportunity for students to connect on campus,” explained Phil, one of the interns. “When I came for my interview, something that caught me by surprise is when she [Valentina] said that people still eat lunch in the bathrooms, by themselves in the stalls, and I’m like wait what? That still happens? I thought we were over with the Mathilda years, but no, here we are. It still happens. Our biggest priority is to break isolation for a majority of the students.”
"It is a place where students can walk in with confidence and ask where the bathrooms are, or come in for more serious matters."
Even though Dawson’s Connect is not totally established yet, the First Year Student Office is, and this semester, FYSO is celebrating its one-year anniversary. The facility was first created as what is called a ‘Dawson Special Project’, meaning that the school provides staff, a budget, and an office for a ‘trial’ period to see if the service is indeed needed, which it was. On June 5th of this year, FYSO’s position as a special project was revoked and became an official office. This was made possible because the school used surveys to ask students about their needs and concerns, the results going directly into Geoff and Valentina’s hands for them to evaluate what they needed to change and improve. It is thanks to those surveys and the feedback they received that the duo was able to cater to so many students and have a successful facility in such a short period of existence.
I asked some students about their experience at the office, “It’s a really good place to gather around and relax after morning classes but also to seek help,” says Paola, now a second-year student. Her time at the office helped her form some meaningful friendships and she now has a place to belong.
“Even though we are in place for the first years, we try to make it clear that everybody is welcome,” says Geoff. So don’t be a stranger and go ask that one question you’ve been meaning to ask since the school year started!
Students can find Geoff and Valentina at the 2D.0 office or at their personal emails,