When undergraduate public health students Catherine Raciti and Anna Heilers transitioned to a virtual learning environment, they initially struggled with losing the structure provided by classroom cultures and interpersonal relationships with fellow students. Heilers, who is currently the president of the Undergraduate Student Association (UGSA) at the Richard M. Fairbanks School of Public Health, was approached by Raciti with an idea to establish accountability partners to help students adjust to a whole new way of learning.
“Staying accountable can be difficult under normal circumstances, but we are living through history right now and the mental stress that it creates,” says Raciti, a past president of the UGSA. “But life is going to continue afterward, and our job as students is to continue excelling and learning in school.”
Together, the students created Learning Together, an informal learning initiative to help support undergraduate students at the Fairbanks School of Public Health.
“The idea behind Learning Together is that students sign up to be matched with an accountability buddy,” Heilers shared. “The accountability buddy is someone who helps keeps you motivated and committed to your studies, but also to serve as an additional support during this challenging time. Your accountability buddy understands what it is like to be a student, and it’s just another chance for undergraduate students at Fairbanks to connect and let each other know that we care.”
Once they formed the idea, they shared it with Kayla Rinker, Undergraduate Academic Advisor and Rachel Forster, Associate Director of Undergraduate Programs and Recruitment. Both staff members supported the initiative immediately.
“Adjusting to this new normal is tough,” said Rinker. “We recognize that being in a new online learning environment away from campus can be challenging. Having a peer to connect with who is experiencing similar challenges can provide encouragement during this stressful time. Together, students can keep each other engaged and accountable.”
Forster, who first met Raciti when she was a senior in high school and Heilers when she was a junior in high school, was proud of the initiative displayed by the student leaders, but not surprised.
“I appreciate and admire their strong work ethic and desire to help others,” Forster said. “Students at FSPH genuinely care about each other’s success. Learning Together is a great way to touch base with another student; each student can express specific goals for the day and hold each other accountable with check-ins and encouragement.”
Currently, Learning Together is only available to Fairbanks School of Public Health undergraduate students. If it is successful, they may plan to launch it more broadly after the COVID-19 pandemic recedes. Students interested in participating can learn more about the initiative here.