Building Networks and Friendships in Online YFCS Programs

networking and friendships

Networking is key to success. Relationships built during graduate school can become lasting networks that help with professional development, social support and even job placement. Some people perceive online education as isolating or devoid of opportunities to make friends or find networks. In NC State’s Youth, Family, and Community Sciences Online Program, this is not the case.

With numerous methods for online social interaction, the use of collaborative projects within programs, and the in-person events sponsored both on- and off-campus, our students have plenty of opportunities to foster relationships and build networks with other people in their program. In this month’s YFCS blog, we highlight a group of online students who built offline relationships.

YFCS: An Interactive Program

A differentiating factor for NC State, and particularly our program, is we intentionally focus on finding ways for students to meet and interact with other students and faculty. We facilitate online class meetings via Collaborate and Zoom, which enables students to meet live. Group projects also encourage students to interact and collaborate on a more personal level, and coaching hours can be hosted with online class peers to encourage better course engagement.

The fully online program encourages and sometimes even requires the use of communications technology to interact with other students. The online dashboard for the program includes messaging boards for discussion and collaboration. Teachers also encourage students to use video conferencing apps, email and other electronic messaging forms in order to effectively “spend time” with each other outside of the normal course times. Video class meeting times vary amongst instructors; some courses are asynchronous, some synchronous and some with a good mixture of both delivery types. Typically, instructors who opt for set meeting times maintain a 5-7 pm or 7-9 pm timeslot.

Yearly events hosted by YFCS encourage students to connect in person, such as last year’s alumni event, which included current and prospective students. Immediately following the alumni event, the Department of Agricultural and Human Sciences hosted alumna Vivian Howard as the annual keynote speaker. Spring 2018, the department will host Temple Grandin,world-renowned animal behaviorist and welfare advocate, as the annual keynote speaker, offering yet another opportunity for students to learn, network and socialize.

NC State also gives students the opportunity to attend and present at conferences within the field. In fact, this year, students joined forces to present at the National Council on Family Relations (NCFR) Annual Conference, meeting in-person to work on their presentation while simultaneously creating a lasting friendship.

Building Friendships Through Online Learning

Making friends within your course of study can be easy since you have similar interests with fellow students. However, this can also be challenging if you aren’t seeing your fellow students every day in class. Three YFCS students discovered it’s possible to have similar experiences through online courses, realizing the ability to make friends only depends on your willingness to connect.

Amber Page Emerson, Taylor McDonald and Mayra Robledo all study at NC State. Taylor believes “meeting and making friends through our online YFCS graduate degree program at NCSU all depends on your willingness to reach out and network with your student colleagues.” Mayra adds the girls have gotten to know one another as they complete different aspects of their education: “We have worked together on multiple class projects, attended and presented at conferences together (i.e., NCFR, Natural Learning Initiative), and helped one another throughout the graduate courses as support systems for one another.”

The young women were asked about their perspectives on meeting people through their online programs. Mayra says, “Personally, starting any graduate program can be intimidating. You don’t know what to expect, or in my case, you may not know anyone in your program or university. Going beyond your comfort zone to reach out to peers and professors helps you adjust to this new transition. I have emailed people outside of my department that have previous or current experience in something that I am passionate about. This is a great way to network and initiate conversation.”

Taylor shares her perspective: “It is possible to still meet others in an online program even if you live far away though! I have emailed, texted, called, facetimed, and set up Zoom meetings with other students I have met and befriended in our program. I have truly networked with them and helped them out, just as they have helped me out when it comes to assignments. I believe there is always a way to meet friends.”

Amber Page met and became friends with Taylor and Mayra in class. After becoming close, the three turned their friendship into networking opportunities. These graduate students figured out how to distill information learned in their YFCS program and translate the lessons into research and presentations. Taylor and Amber presented on the importance of outdoor play at the National Learning Initiative, and Taylor and Mayra expanded a class project and presented their findings at the NCFR Conference. These networking opportunities improve their resumés, and the fun trips build a sense of community in family science.

Their story is exactly what YFCS faculty strive to achieve for their students. Online learning doesn’t have to be lonely or isolating. YFCS online learning activities are designed so students can develop long-lasting friendships and networks.

Check back each month to the YFCS blog as we discuss topics around youth, family and community sciences and the online programs at NC State.