In a pilot program finishing its first semester, students known as Academic and Community Engagement (ACE) Fellows are serving as academic and social mentors meant to ease new students’ transition to Tufts and connect them to the world outside their dorm rooms.
Run jointly by the Dean of Undergraduate Education’s office and the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service, the ACE Fellows program this year placed one upperclassman student in each of four residence halls, providing freshmen and sophomores with academic, social and extracurricular guidance as needed.
“They operate as role models in the residence halls,” Associate Dean for Orientation and Student Transition Laura Doane, who directs the program, said. “They’re not RAs [resident assistants] and they’re not tutors. They’re sort of combining aspects of both of those roles to support the students in figuring out [how they] fit into the Tufts community, what the Tufts community is and how best to move forward in their college career.”
The pilot program began this semester with four fellows -l one each in Hill, Houston, Haskell and South Halls.
The fellows receive free housing in the dorm they serve, like an RA does, although they do not receive a free meal plan.
Bianca Blakesley, a junior who is serving as an ACE Fellow in Hill Hall for the program’s first year, said that as the program evolves, the role of an ACE Fellow will become more defined.
“I think sometimes the RAs get confused about what our role is, and if we expand it’ll be more legitimate, and there will be a fellow in every hall and all the freshman dorms,” she said.
Hayden Lizotte, a sophomore who works as the fellow in South Hall, has organized events like a version of “speed dating” for students to get to know professors in a casual setting and an Election Night party that he coordinated along with the RAs in South.
“There [are] only four of us, so we haven’t been able to hit all corners of campus yet, but the program is expanding, and the people I have worked with have been really excited,” he said.
In addition to providing academic help, Lizotte said he acts as another type of mentor for the residents in his hall.
“If students are looking for opportunities, if they’re struggling to find a place for themselves here, [the RAs] will send them to me,” he said.
The program is now accepting more applicants for next year after a promising start, Doane said.
“It’s early, but it’s been very successful,” she said. “We’re looking to expand.”
Although Doane said the program has not decided on how many more fellows it will take on next year, she hopes there will be an ACE Fellow representing every freshman and mixed freshman/sophomore dorm.
The process of selecting next year’s fellows will begin later this month, when applications are due on Nov. 26.
The program’s partnership with Tisch College introduces a focus on active citizenship by encouraging fellows to help their residents participate in campus activities and attend lectures.
“[The fellows] put out a weekly newsletter that has some activities of interest,” Doane said. “Each [fellow] gets groups together each week to go actually to those events.
Their role is in helping students get involved in the Tufts community but also the local community as well.”
Doane added that some students need extra help with the transition to college.
“It can be a really difficult process and everyone does it differently,” she said. “Part of the ACE Fellow role is
normalizing the fact that transitioning to a new environment like this is challenging. Especially at this time in most people’s lives, and especially because it’s a residential atmosphere.”
Doane said the specific duties of the ACE Fellows were largely left up to the fellows themselves to interpret and work with.
“We did not provide them with a lot of direction – it was sort of like, ‘Here’s our vision, and tell us where the challenge is getting there,'” she said. “Their role is still changing.”