First Year Experience? Try First "Virtual" Experience

First Year Experience grapples with serving students online

Staff Writer: Sasha Kauwale
Graphic Designer: Naomi Lemieux

Graphic of a student with a digital camera for their head, wearing a backpack and red shirt. A global pandemic, new societal restrictions and unorthodox format of learning, it’s needless to say that the university experience has been altered from what we once thought was normal and have challenged students to learn in a way they haven’t before.

First Year Experience (FYE) is a campus based organization with the mission to build a foundation for student’s full academic and social integration into the campus. This is achieved through the development of long lasting connections to other students, faculty, staff and student support resources. Shara Mahoe, the Director for First Year Experience explained that because FYE is a campus based organization and with new societal restrictions and barely any students on campus, FYE has been left with a smaller reach to UH Hilo students.

The college experience begins with Fall 2020 Orientation. Mahoe and crew knew that the usual four-day student orientation along with the two-day parent campus orientation needed to be reevaluated.. The changes would include two in-person orientation sessions,which were held on campus August 19th and 20th.The launch of the eView FYE reached 200 UH Hilo students through the eView platform. Mahoe admits, “one key thing we were missing was the “student perspective” through videos; and are looking at ways to improve eView with student videos now that the campus has some student life to it.” The eView is accessible for parents and families to have access to information, websites, emails, and phone numbers to help navigate new Vulcan students and their UH Hilo experience.

“Creating connections is important for new students to feel connected.” shares Mahoe; as she gives advice to students to stay connected as best as they can since in-person engagement is limited due to COVID-19.

First Year Experience normally offers large scale programs such as: Speed Mixer, Evening of Aloha, Bingo, Haumana Hou, and Transfer Social. Due to physical distancing and room capacity, such events will no longer be offered. However, FYE has partnered with campus and Hilo community resources to offer programs and workshops to conduct such programs and events virtually.

In the month of September, FYE offered: Budget 101, Career Tips and Resume Building, Trivia with our Mentors, and Peace Corp with an Alumni. For the month of October, FYE plans to host “Transfer Week”, which specifically caters to first-year students who are coming to the four-year university from a junior college. In November, FYE is planning some “destress” programs to help students along their academic and mental journeys.

Mahoe shares with Ke Kalahea that FYE is still very much in the planning stages of events, with the circumstances of COVID-19 ever changing. “Student [mentors] have been assigned different tasks and research of various programs, to figure out what should be offered.” At press time, FYE was planning to host such programs virtually, however Mahoe stated that if any in-person programs should be held, they would comply with University guidelines.

Engagement within programs is communicated through peer mentors, mentorship, emails, and social networking. With the new virtual platform, it makes outreach more difficult, as students need to make a choice to sign up and sign in at the correct time. Students are encouraged to sign up to virtual events to best utilize resources made available to them.

First Year Experience has an on-campus office called “The Loft” located in the Student Services Center E-241, and is open from 9 a.m.to4:30 p.m Monday through Friday. At the office, FYE Student Ambassadors are available to answer any questions, meet with mentees, or host events. FYE follows the CDC and University guidelines in COVID-19 management and procedure, which includes regular cleaning and a maximum capacity of one student and one ambassador in the room at any given time.

“Through this all... It’s important to remain connected — although this can be challenging, our FYE department, other UH Hilo resources, faculty and staff are here for you,” Mahoe says.

“We can’t identify your needs or how to help you if we are not made aware of them. Please reach out earlier than later if you have questions. We have all experienced being a “First Year” student before and want to make sure you are aware of the resources available for you in this unusual time.”

Contact FYE at or (808) 932-7384