ACE Fellow program expands, redefines role on campus

Petrina Chan / The Tufts Daily

The Academic and Community Engagement (ACE) Fellow program will expand the number of fellows from seven to 10 for the next academic year. This program, which places student leaders in residence halls to offer academic and social guidance to first-years, will also shift its approach to focusing on helping first-year students transition to Tufts.

The program accepted its fellows for the 2016-2017 academic year near the end of February from a record of 40 applicants, more than double last year’s 17 applicants, according to Assistant Dean of Student Affairs Chris Rossi.

“Regardless of application numbers in the past, we yielded great people, so we’re lucky in that regard,” Rossi said.

Rossi said that he identified a need to grow the program at the beginning of the academic year because more students wanted assistance from ACE Fellows than the fellows were feasibly able to provide, especially because ACE Fellows live in the same residence halls as first-year students.

“Some of the tangible and practical hurdles for students…were coming up in residence,” he said. “A lot of times, our ACE Fellows would be almost overwhelmed because we’d have so many first-year students coming to them.”

For that reason, Rossi said that the program will be “asymmetrically focused on the first-year experience.” He explained that he and Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Robert Mack plan to refocus ACE Fellows’ role on helping students transition during orientation and immediately afterwards.

He said that the residential aspect of the program is still important but that there remain opportunities to create a specific structure to help students during their first several weeks and months at Tufts. Later in the year, Rossi said ACE Fellows will lead larger-scale programs so that students can reflect on their experiences.

The increase in ACE Fellow applications can be attributed to the program’s shift in focus on the first-year transition, along with proactive efforts to advertise the program through information sessions, Rossi said. He added that many applicants cited current fellows as the reason why they chose to apply.

Jan. 31 email advertising the ACE Fellow program encouraged students to apply for “free housing and the chance to change lives.” ACE Fellows receive free housing in exchange for their work, Rossi said.

The ACE Fellow program began as a pilot program with four fellows in 2012, according to a Nov. 20, 2012 Daily articleRossi said that several of the ACE Fellows from this academic year reapplied to be fellows next year. Overall, half of the applicants were current first-years, seven were sophomores and 13 were juniors, all with a wide range of majors, according to Rossi.

Junior Keren Hendel, a current ACE Fellow who plans to continue with the program next year, said she served as a Resident Advisor (RA) last academic year. She explained that the ACE program allows her to help first-year students transition to Tufts without having to punish them for disciplinary problems.

RA…was a great role,” Hendel said. “But [the ACE program] is kind of all of the best parts of being an RA without the disciplinary piece.”

Hendel said that several other RAs have expressed interest in the ACE Fellow program because it offers similar tangible and social benefits to being an RA. According to the Office of Residential Life and Learning (ResLife) website, RAs are expected to organize programs, conduct rounds and oversee their floors.

Sophomore Jukurious Davis explained that he chose to be an ACE Fellow, so he could help first-year students transition and adjust to Tufts in a formal role. He said that the fellows’ lack of disciplinary responsibilities is an important distinguishing feature from the role of an RA.

ACEs serve as more of student resources and ‘sounding boards,’ if you will, for first-years,” Davis, a sophomore, told the Daily in an email.

Hendel said she is excited for the program’s new focus because it will clarify the ACE Fellows’ role on campus, distinguishing their role from that of the RAs. She explained that their goal is to work more as a cohesive team rather than exclusively in residence halls.

“I think a lot of people just see us as an upperclassman that lives in the dorms who can give advice,” Hendel said. “Making sure that people really know what we do and how we do it is going to be important.”

Rossi said that the program’s growth will make it an important feature of students’ transition to Tufts.

“We’ve heard a lot about the ACE Fellows wanting to be involved earlier in the students’ transition,” Rossi said. “[In] my opinion, this group is going to be the lead student leadership group as it relates to the first-year experience.”