Tylor Collier, MPP Class of 2023, writes about how her Orientation experience helped her forge lasting friendships at Harris.

After more than a year of social distancing and virtual schooling, I was anxious about connecting with my fellow classmates at Harris. While virtual programming in the early part of the summer provided a space to connect with Polis members and learn about my peers, building community in the virtual format presented some challenges. Although we turned on our cameras to allow brief glimpses into our lives during Zoom sessions, it was difficult to make deeper connections.

Unsurprisingly, I was nervous when I walked into a large lecture hall and sat next to a stranger on the first day of the in-person Jumpstart session. This would have felt so natural prior to COVID, but I could feel my heart beating and felt highly aware of who was within six feet of me. Had I made the right choice in starting graduate school during a pandemic?

One of the first things our instructor Rohen Shah told us was that the University was following COVID protocols closely and would do everything to ensure our safety in the classroom. It was a simple statement but one that reassured me that I could fully engage with the Jumpstart curriculum and my fellow classmates in a safe environment.

Over the next five weeks of Jumpstart and Math & Coding Camp, any question of having made the right decision disappeared. I connected with other Harris students during lectures and my teaching assistant (TA) sessions, and our friendships grew as we explored Hyde Park and downtown Chicago together and studied for the required Math Exam together.

(And you better believe we celebrated together when we mastered the CTA bus system.)

Moreover, our TA Rana Khalil [MPP Class of 2022 offered to introduce us to her favorite areas of Chicago, and one evening, several of us gathered at fellow first-year Jose Aguayo’s apartment to play a card game involving matching a funny word prompt with an x-axis graph. Never could I have predicted I’d enjoy playing a math-based game in my free time surrounded by classmates I now consider to be great friends.