Trevecca has long valued the role of small groups and mentors in helping incoming students acclimate to college life. is fall, the LINK program celebrated its tenth anniversary. To mark the occasion, we sat down with Megan McGhee, director of first year programs, to learn more about LINK, its history and the program’s future.
How would you describe the LINK program to someone who’s unfamiliar with it?
The LINK program exists to help students in their transition to Trevecca and college life. We chose the word LINK because we feel that transition is complete once they feel like they have a place here at Trevecca, that they’ve formed some sort of link with the institution and feel like they belong. We do that through our LINK groups, which are our small mentoring groups. ose groups are important because if you don’t know anyone else, at least you know the people in your LINK group.
Why is this kind of program important to students?
The transition from high school to college—that major milestone that 18-year-olds hit—is jarring for multiple reasons. For our residential students, they’re living away from home and having to take care of a lot of their own things that maybe their parents used to do for them. And then academically, there’s the shell shock that students receive when they realize what it takes to be in college. All of that combined, if students don’t have a place that is safe for them, that is comfortable, where they can be themselves and ask questions and feel it’s OK to not know everything, then I think that makes the transition harder. We provide that space knowing that this transition is jarring, and that they have a desire to be successful and succeed, but knowing they don’t have to do that alone and that they’re able to do that with a group of their peers is something that makes them feel more confident.
How have you seen the program grow and change over the years?
I think one of the big ones is our name shift [from LEAP to LINK]. Before it was LEAP, we had Freshmen Family Groups. We have some mentors now who remember being a part of those Freshman Family Groups when they were students here. The name has shifted as need has shifted and as we have found more of a focus of what this is and what we want it to represent. When it was LEAP, it was very much about making the leap from high school to college. Now, with LINK, we’re trying to make it more about Trevecca and forming the connection here. As all students have to go through this program, it’s fun to hear the stories of people who have gone through the different iterations of what this has been. But every person you talk to about it talks about how meaningful it was to them. Our programs for our new students have woven themselves through our history.
This is my sixth fall doing this. e number of peer mentors I work with has doubled. e number of mentors I work with has doubled. e number of freshmen has doubled practically. It’s been a challenge to still provide the same quality of that small group experience while doing it for twice as many people as when it started. I give a lot of credit for that to our peer mentors and mentors because they are really the ones who are able to embody that mission of helping our students feel connected. Our peer mentors and mentors really believe what those LINK groups do, so even if the group size is bigger, they’re still able to provide hospitality and a place for those new students to connect. The size really does change things, but the heart really is still the same.
Another significant change would be the addition of transfer students last year. Transfers never really had an official program for them, and now we have transfer peer mentors. There isn’t a class that they take, but they have people who are assigned and intentionally there to connect them to the University. All of our transfer peer mentors were transfer students themselves, so they understand the unique place our transfer students are in.
What are some hopes or plans you have for the future of LINK?
I’d really love to take the TREK portion [a section of the LINK program centered on adventure activities, such as camping and hiking] and expand that—not only to have more of our LINK groups that do the trip, but also just to expand our rental program, our o erings and our activities for any student. Just to find more ways for the entire student population to connect more to the outdoors and nature.
Every year we have returning mentors, and I would love to take those third year peer mentors and let them have more ownership of the program. They would be helping to plan training and orientation so we have more of a student voice in the planning of our rst-year program. I always debrief them ... but they don’t ever get to have input on the front end. Being able to have student voices as we’re planning things is only going to help [fulfill our] desire to better serve the needs of our diverse population of students.
I’d love to get to the point—we’re probably at 90 percent—where 100 percent of our mentors are Trevecca grads, so that all of the people pouring back into our students have Trevecca history and love for the institution, so that we’re really creating that history and legacy.
With the continuing growth of our institution, there are still some practical things to consider. ... The Trevecca of the future directly impacts orientation and first-year programs of the future. Knowing where Trevecca wants to go and the type of students Trevecca wants to recruit directly affects what I do. I exist to provide space and resources for the success of our students. That’s my whole job. So being able to adapt to the changing needs of our students is at the forefront of what I have to think about. The same thing doesn’t work every year!