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Student Information Desk provides peer support for student questions

The+student+information+desk+sit+next+to+the+security+desk++in+the+student+center+754+S.+Wabash+Ave.%2C+on+Friday%2C+Oct+13%2C+2023.+The+student+operated+help+desk+for+students+to+get+information+about+Columbia+related+topics.
K’Von Jackson
The student information desk sit next to the security desk in the student center 754 S. Wabash Ave., on Friday, Oct 13, 2023. The student operated help desk for students to get information about Columbia related topics.

Columbia has added the Student Information Desk to the front entrance of the Student Center to provide peer-to-peer support and resources to students.

New for the fall semester, the information desk is operated by Engage leaders from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Students can access the desk in person, via email or through the Engage Columbia portal to get information about Columbia and other college-related questions.

“It kind of started as a strategic initiative having to do with retention,” said Lauren Nazarian, director of the Student Center. “So this was created as an initiative to help students solve problems that they may find frustrating or difficult to find solutions to.”

The college is trying to improve low rates of first-year retention to address its $20 million financial deficit. The information desk was established with new students in mind but is open to all students. The Engage leaders who work for the desk are trained to answer a variety of questions and pass along resources or contact information for additional help.

“We felt like it was important for students to have a place to go and someone to go to that they trusted,” said Associate Dean of Student Life Kari Sommers. “The Engage leaders get to know our new students really, really well throughout the course of the summer. And so we wanted to make sure that there was that sort of peer to peer interaction.

A committee of people from different offices and departments around campus worked together to advise the creation of the information desk for several months leading up to the fall semester. They had regular meetings to discuss the goals of the desk and how to implement it in its location at the front of the Student Center next to the security desk.

“Having the Student Center as a home base is just a game changer because students are there every day,” Sommers said. “The numbers just keep going up and up and up.”

Nazarian said that the Student Center aims to be a convenient place to provide services for students.

“People are already kind of naturally coming to the Student Center, so the more we can make it convenient for students to also get help with the TechBar or also get help with the Student Info Desk that’s what we want to do,” Nazarian said. “We really want to provide those services for students in a convenient way.”

Sophomore journalism major Hunter Warner is an Engage leader who works at the desk two days a week.

“I feel like a lot of students come in and they still go to the front security desk to ask questions and then they’re sent over to us,” Warner said.

Warner said students often ask questions about campus cards or financial aid.

“As we kind of move closer to that second semester, I think that a lot of students are kind of realizing, you know, it’s an expensive place to go and that it’s really time to anchor down on those scholarships and financial aid,” Warner said.

When they aren’t providing information in-person or through their email, leaders will look through the Engage app to find questions that students are asking and respond to them. Students who are interested in becoming Engage leaders can apply and interview for the position during the spring semester.

As more students learn about and use the information desk, campus leaders will be looking for ways to improve the desk’s function. Future improvements may include a live chat feature through the Engage portal.

“It’s just kind of a limited basis for the opening, but we’d love to extend hours,” Nazarian added. “We’d love to also just see how it goes and then try to learn from the first semester.”

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About the Contributors
Sydney Richardson
Sydney Richardson, Reporter
srichardson@columbiachronicle.com   Sydney Richardson is a sophomore journalism major, concentrating in broadcasting for radio. She is minoring in voiceover. Richardson has reported on campus and metro events, as well as changes to Columbia's Student Life and Residence Life departments of the college. She joined the Chronicle in August 2023.   Hometown: Woodridge, Illinois
K’Von Jackson
K’Von Jackson, Former Senior Photojournalist
kjackson@columbiachronicle.com   K'Von Jackson is a senior photography major. Some of his work includes campus crime writing, social justice and changes within Columbia. He worked for the Chronicle from August 2020 through December 2023.   Hometown: Chicago, Ill.