One Tuesday evening a little more than a month into his freshman year, Jaelon Hariston was learning to run the state-of-the-art equipment in Longwood’s communication studies broadcast studio. Hariston, with a booming voice and larger-than-life personality, was using the equipment to film improv comedy skits, and had starred in two of the three student skits.
“This is awesome!” Hariston ’22 exclaimed after getting a crash course in operating the large broadcast TV camera.
Hariston is one of the students in Clint Wright’s first-year coaching group—an innovative new approach to helping freshmen acclimate to college life that Longwood introduced and piloted in the fall semester. The 60 groups, led by faculty and staff coaches and built around shared interests, provide the kind of mentoring support that has long been one of Longwood’s trademarks.
Wright, the broadcast studio managing editor, leads a group made up mostly of art majors who are interested in film and performance. Wright applied to be a first-year coach because he liked the idea that he’d be able to give new Longwood students a sense of direction. With his access to the professional studio equipment—what he likes to call his “playground”—he knew he could give his group something tangible that they could focus on and have fun with.
“Coaching groups are an interesting concept,” he said. “It’s this idea of creating a noncurricular experience that allows students to come together and create a sense of belonging in their freshman year that is not necessarily tied to a faculty member they deal with on a daily basis. If they have questions, I’m a point of contact for them to go through to help them work out those problems.”
'If they have questions, I’m a point of contact for them to go through to help them work out those problems.'CLINT WRIGHT, COACHING GROUP MENTOR
Dr. Emily Heady, senior director of student success and retention, said the coaching-group model is a best practice in use at a number of colleges and universities, but Longwood is one of the few to offer it to all incoming students. There are some early indications that the implementation of the coaching groups has been a success, including a significant reduction in the overall number of freshmen who ended their first semester on academic probation.
The coaching groups are built around shared interests. The majority of students in Wright’s group—16 out of 18—are graphic and animation design majors. They were placed in his group because they all said they had an interest in film and movies in a survey prior to orientation.
After meeting for the first time and learning they had access to the broadcast studio, the students decided that filming a sketch comedy show would be a fun project for their group to undertake. They decided to meet weekly to brainstorm ideas and write content, and spent close to two hours in the studio filming three sketches for their initial episode of “Skit Happens.” They filmed two subsequent episodes during the rest of the fall semester. In addition to writing the scripts, they got experience running the cameras and sound boards, and also gained exposure to some of the video editing process.
The students had so much fun with the project, they continued their group into the spring semester and have been working on an additional episode of the show. They also plan to form an official club on campus. They’ve already picked a club name—Studio 105, which is the room number of the broadcast studio in French Hall.