As we all know, COVID-19 has made large and small scale changes in the lives of everyone. One way in which I have recognized that students have been impacted is in the struggle to build and maintain social networks. I have seen this impact in both my first-year mentees and me. Because this seems to be a common struggle, I am going to discuss how I have made small adjustments to feel a sense of normalcy in a time that just feels so … not normal. 

Everyone who knows me knows that building a supportive social and professional network has been one of my favorite parts of my whole college experience, and maintaining those connections has been the best part of the whole networking process. Lately, though, I have recognized that maintaining my professional networks with faculty and staff has been challenging. There has just been this evident shift in the process I felt I had mastered over the course of the past three years. I used to just pop into my professors’ offices to say hello. I used to just stop by my academic coach’s office and say hello. I used to “walk and talk” after class with my professors. I used to stop by the offices of so many people I know have been and always will be in my corner cheering me on. Now, I don’t have the ability to do that because everything is virtual. This sense of community just feels missing. 

When I realized that I was struggling, as a senior who has mastered networking skills, I began to worry. I worry for those who are first-years and first-gen who lack the opportunities I had to build those skills and who feel they have to figure it out on their own. If you’re struggling to network, know that you do not have to figure it out on your own because you are not alone. Here are some helpful tips that I find have been helpful in building and maintaining relationships during this shift to virtual learning. 

Helpful Tips for Online Networking: 

  1. Reach out to professors. Send that email. Set up that meeting. They are missing their former connections with students and will be excited you reached out. 
  2. Reach out to the previous professional networks. They want to hear from you, too! They’re busy trying to figure out how to engage students virtually, so they’ll be relieved to hear from you.
  3. Join organizations that are meeting virtually.
  4. Remind yourself that they are also not as connected and would enjoy connecting with students! 

These are things that have helped me recognize that while I have had to change my networking approach, it is still possible to connect and network with academic professionals virtually, even though it’s not my first choice. I also think that reminding myself that this is only a temporary circumstance also helps encourage me to keep attempting to virtually network. To my fellow first gens who are either just learning networking skills or are having to adjust your old networking methods to make virtual connections work, remember that we’re in this together and can still build a meaningful support system.