College Possible Oregon’s college coaches created a unique space for students to build community using Discord, an online communication platform.
For many students, going to college is about the social aspect of a college community as much as it is about earning an education.
“Before the pandemic, coaches spent time on campus and were able to reserve a space to host events for students,” said program coordinator Deysi Cisneros Maciel. “These events were popular with students since they could connect with other College Possible students and really build a community.”
As the pandemic began and educational spaces transformed, building community became harder for College Possible students.
“With the pandemic, students are not as engaged for a few reasons,” said college coach Moxxy Rogers. “I have a lot of students who are now working two jobs in order to support their families because their parents were laid off, and so they are busier than usual, which means that they often feel too overwhelmed to interact and engage with me. In addition to that, students’ mental health is suffering on a large scale. College can already be very difficult, but part of what makes it manageable is the community.”
College coaches began to recognize the social disconnect among students and knew they needed to find a solution that went beyond Zoom.
“We were struggling with ways to build community among our students, and Discord came as an idea in a brainstorming session,” said college coach Dawn-Hunter Strobel. “We initially tried to do virtual group sessions to build community, but found that a lot of our students didn’t want to spend more time on Zoom.”
Discord was originally an online gaming platform; however, during the pandemic its uses have diversified. It is divided into servers which have different members, topics, rules and channels. Participants are able to chat, individually message each other, and communicate through voice and video. Currently, 71 students are engaging with over 30 themed channels in the College Possible Discord server, discussing topics like majors, resources and pets.
“We hope this space will encourage peer to peer connection and allow students to share support and resources with each other,” said college coach Allison Tep. “It is also a place where coaches can more informally reach and interact with students.”
Although Discord was developed for a virtual world, coaches are hoping to use this platform beyond the pandemic.
“I would love to continue using Discord for the upcoming years,” said Cisneros Maciel. “Since we also support students all over Oregon and out of state, sometimes it is hard to connect them with other College Possible students. By using Discord we can create a virtual community and network of support that goes beyond Portland.”
College coaches guide students as they navigate the milestones and resources essential to graduating from college. This includes helping link students to services already available on campus, planning events for students, and connecting them to meaningful opportunities such as scholarships and internships.
“I love this job,” said Rogers. “Everything I do is for the benefit of my students. I don’t always get it right, but I will always do my best to meet the students where they are.”
For more information on becoming a College Possible AmeriCorps coach, please visit our website.