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Community Building with McIntire’s Commerce Cohort

October 28, 2019

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For students aspiring to apply to McIntire’s B.S. in Commerce Program, the Commerce Cohort provides an engaging, supportive avenue for addressing the unique challenges facing high-achieving, high-need UVA first-years.

Launched in September 2018 with 31 first-year students of the University’s Class of 2022, the Commerce Cohort provides unprecedented learning opportunities for prospective McIntire students from traditionally underrepresented groups. As part of its business-minded sessions of academic mentorship, career preparation, and personal development, the program also aims to foster a true community among students, driven by lessons on active critical analysis, self-reflection, and communication.

A recent two-day retreat to Graves Mountain Farm provided a picturesque, rustic setting for a schedule that helped to break the ice among group members and promote crucial networking and introspective examination aiming to strengthen the Cohort. Highlighted by bonding and learning activities that addressed students’ doubts about the future, strategies for facilitating growth, and an invitation to students to take stock of their personal strengths, the trip also included a mentor and student hike centered on unpacking the UVA experience. Taking a break from always-on connectivity, the wifi-less setting offered participants the increasingly rare experience of solely focusing on their immediate surroundings and learning about themselves and their peers.

Sonia Jiménez, McIntire’s Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admission, planned and executed the retreat with support from Deanna D. Williams, Assistant Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The hourlong trip north from Grounds proved successful on many fronts.

“Cohort students spent time with their mentors, learning about experiences at UVA and McIntire. I saw this opportunity as helpful for the Cohort because they were able to see students who look like them and share their stories,” Williams said. “There was a shared sense of connectedness, and I believe this will be an experience they will never forget.”

Student responses were equally positive.

“My favorite times were spent bonding with my classmates on our own. I like how we all congregated together to play kid games like freeze tag,” said Charity Olagunju (UVA ’23). “We created a sense of community and warmth that I have only experienced with a few select groups.”

A common theme was a fresh sense of ease shared among Cohort peers.

“I feel that the Cohort is no longer a group of strangers that meets once every week for an hour and 15 minutes, but a close, legit, community,” said Jermaine Da Costa (UVA ’23).

Rebecca Tilahun (UVA ’23) agreed. “Now I’m feeling much more confident and comfortable in the Cohort. Like Sadie [Royal Collins, Director of Undergraduate Admission] said, ‘You get as much out of the Cohort as you put in.’ With my newfound confidence and inspiration within the group, I’m excited to see where it will lead me by the end of the semester.”

Though the much of the retreat’s activities were planned, some of the most important moments came from those that took place spontaneously during unstructured moments.

“One of the most beautiful moments was when the students started an impromptu volleyball game and beckoned for others to join,” recalled Jiménez. “There was a student who hesitated because she wasn’t familiar with the game. ‘I don’t know how to play,’ I overheard her say. Then another Cohort member smiled at her and said, ‘Nobody does!’ She immediately joined, and these students went from not knowing each other’s names to studying for their COMM 1800 mid-term together. Most of them feel closer to this group than the people they see every day.”

Jiménez added that the experience reminded her that “just because you step out of your comfort zone doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.” In fact, she said, “the retreat demonstrated for our students that the returns are even greater when you explore the unknown as a bonded community.”