To better connect and assist students, the 21st Century Scholars Program has been working on Connect & Thrive, a mobile app-supported program designed to provide students with mentorship, community, and support. This project is a collaborative effort between Vincent Isom, director of the 21st Century Scholars Program and Angela Chow and Hsien-Chang Lin, associate professors at the School of Public Health.
Connect & Thrive is part of a more extensive program known as the Student Thriving and Resilience Study (STARS) conducted by Chow and her team in collaboration with Isom. The goal of the program is to increase student connectedness and facilitate students' goal settings and goal achievement processes.
According to Chow, the idea for this project began before the pandemic and has gone through multiple phases. In September of 2020, roughly 800 students participated in a STARS survey to examine the developmental trajectories of Indiana University students as they weather the changes and challenges of hybrid education in the context of COVID-19. Using data from the survey, the team developed a beta version of the app, and in November 2020, a group of undergraduate students participated in a four-week beta test. Following this test, the team launched a four-week cohort program in spring 2021. In addition to working on the app, the participants also met with their peers and a trained student moderator weekly on Zoom. Designed to support students in four areas, the program:
- Supports goal setting and achieving processes
- Fosters a sense of community
- Supports mental health and well-being
- Provides technology support
"We got a lot of positive feedback when the four-week program was over," Chow said. "We had one group who wanted to continue using the app once the test was complete until the spring semester was over."
Part of the Connect & Thrive app comes from the SMART Goal Program, a program designed by Isom years ago when he worked as an academic advisor and later adapted for the students recovering academically. Isom highlighted his team member, Andrew Schwartz who assisted in the development process for the app’s ease of use along with recording messages on how to develop SMART goals.
"The program talks about establishing a student's academic goals so that a student can see how it connects from one point to the next," Isom said. "The hours that you spend studying pay off on your quizzes and so on. The goal was to have students break down their goals in measurable steps to improve their academic performance instead of just saying do better and study. Academic and career pursuit go hand in hand; you can't get internships if you perform poorly."
The team used an abbreviated version of the program when developing the Connect & Thrive app. "We felt that since this SMART program was well established and used by the 21st Century Scholars program for a long time," Lin said. "So since we had this smartphone app, we thought we could take advantage of this digital platform and integrate this program with our app."
“With Isom's strong student service background, Chow's interest in student motivation in an online environment and her work as a developmental psychologist, as well as Lin's background in health behavior research, Chow noted this program "worked as a synergy between faculty researcher and student service professional."
As IU enters into a new semester, the team is eagerly working on expanding Connect & Thrive by bringing in the FASE Mentoring services, which will allow easier access to more student mentors for students in need moving into the new semester.
"The 21st Century Scholars Program and FASE have always had a close relationship," Patrick Smith, director of the FASE Mentoring Program, said. "This is just another example of how our programs fit together and work to give students the tools they need to succeed.”
Smith goes on to mention that FASE mentors will also have access to the app and be able to facilitate small group discussions with 21st Century Scholars who have elected to utilize this platform. “I am anxious to observe how receiving mentoring through the Connect & Thrive app will impact students’ level of engagement with their peer mentors. Students who seek mentoring still have the option of FASE’s in-person services, so it will be interesting to see how it may enhance our mentoring services.”
"The whole point of the app is to help students attain success," Smith said. "We're trying to meet students where they are. Most of them use social media, and we want to ensure that students can receive mentoring with greater flexibility." For more information on the STARS programs, please visit their website.