MD freshmen help build a program, a la Harry Potter, that makes a growing school feel smaller

Behind the adventure and magic found in the Harry Potter series is a mentor-building practice actually used in many boarding schools, colleges and medical schools – sorting new students into various “houses” with students from all years to help the newcomers immediately feel welcomed into the fold of an institution, regardless of its size.

The same approach is being started at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine (MCOM).

As 177 first-year medical students start classes this fall, they will be forming nine collegia – smaller groups that contain members from all four classes of medical students, with an aim to also integrate more faculty and alumni in the future. Numerous medical schools across the country have similar programs for mentorship and social interaction, including Vanderbilt and the University of Miami.

Creating smaller communities allows for students across all years to connect and create positive, supportive environments that result in a better college experience and a better likelihood for academic success, said Neil Manimala, second-year medical student and the USF Medical Student Council President.

“Collegia can be an answer to a few critical challenges a student body faces today: growing class size and geographically divergent students, whether they be a few miles south at Tampa General or a thousand miles north in Allentown, Pennsylvania,” Manimala said. “Being a member of a collegium gives each student an opportunity for cross-class and cross-program collaboration. There will be outstanding opportunities for mentorship both from upperclassmen and from practicing physicians.”

With the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine continuing to grow – over the past decade, it has nearly doubled its incoming class – the collegia was just one way to make a growing student body feel more personal, he said.

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Manimala said the MCOM group started after students worked with MCOM administration, MCOM Career Advising and the USF Medical Student Council.

“The collegium provides a structure to allow not only faculty mentoring and advising, but ‘near mentoring’ of students by students,” said Allesa English, MD, PharmD, director of MD Career Advising in the MCOM Office of Educational Affairs.

“Being able to make these connections across the years while in school will facilitate students’ performance in school and career decision making, particularly as residency placement becomes more competitive across the country.”

Last year, medical students from all four years were randomly divided up into nine collegia.

But the real kickoff event was held this August during the medical school’s orientation week, when new first-year students socialized and met their second-year mentors. There were also told they were initiating the first year of a new tradition.

“We told them they have both the responsibility and privilege of being the first class fully immersed in the collegia,” Manimala said.

The first-years were tasked with creating a symbol for their respective collegium.

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“Some were more lighthearted and some were serious, but they all conveyed personality,” Manimala said. “We are working with the Office of Educational Affairs to polish these symbol drawings for presentation to all four classes in each collegium. We are glad so many second-year leaders were there to advise the first-years during orientation week. We are looking forward to getting third- and fourth-year mentors involved in the next few weeks as well.”

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Over the next few weeks, first-year students will present finalized names for each collegium to their upperclassmen.

“I can tell you that there was a lot of energy in each of those nine rooms as they drew symbols,” Manimala said. “It was a great way to harness the innovation and creativity that is abundant in our student body. We’re excited to keep that momentum moving forward into the year.”

 

Dr. English agrees.

“We’ve been so pleased with the student response to the program,” she said. “The student leaders have been particularly receptive to the idea, and see this as an opportunity to further develop the culture of MCOM.”

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Once established, the group is planning connection opportunities, including encouraging faculty and alumni advisors to have events and meetings off campus for a richer experience, intramural sporting events and other aspects of student life here on campus, Manimala said.

“We will also be changing up the Bullympics tradition to complement the Collegia program,” he said. “Every year before this, Bullympics was a competition between classes, but this year, it will be a competition between Collegia, and may even involve other USF Health programs. Members of each Collegia will get a chance to win points by winning Bullympics sporting events, cook-offs, charity runs, fundraising, and more throughout the year. They will get a chance to chart their progress at a common area on campus. It will be lots of fun, and I’m excited to see students engaged in a shared community.”

Story by Sarah A. Worth, photos by Eric Younghans, USF Health Office of Communications