Published!: Residence Life and Student Housing publishes study on Sense of Belonging to a Residential Community

How and why do students feel a sense of belonging to their residential community? What factors play a role in contributing to sense of belonging? These are some of the questions that guided members of the Residence Life and Student Housing Research Team to embark on a five-study research project that is ultimately yielding great insights for how the SMU Residential Commons Model can help shape this key student-level outcome. Utilizing both quantitative and qualitative methods, these studies collectively sought to define belonging to a residential community, track changes in sense of belonging over the two-year live-on requirement, and understand sense of belonging across each of the 11 Commons and the Upper Division Housing system. One component study entitled, “A Content Analysis of College Student-Proposed Definitions of Sense of Belonging to a Residential Community” was published in the Journal of College of and University Student Housing in October 2021.

The Sophomore Project

Once SMU determined students would return to campus in fall 2021 for in-person instruction and activity, leaders in student and academic affairs recognized a one-time acute concern for sophomores. To address this concern, SMU student and academic affairs partnered in a large-scale retention and engagement effort called The Sophomore Project.

Many sophomores would come to campus for the first time after attending virtually, living internationally, or living at home when they normally would have lived on campus. Some experienced COVID-19 personally or within their families, some lost loved ones or experienced significant financial hardship, and all were affected. Originally conceived and proposed as a Student Affairs Innovation Grant, Dr. K.C. Mmeje, Vice President for Student Affairs, elected to elevate the project to an institutional priority.

Led by a Steering Committee (SPSC) chaired by Dr. Dawn F. Norris, 80+ conversationalists participated in outreach to 1,500+ sophomores during the first seven weeks of the fall semester. Traditional Student Affairs strategies often rely on in-person gatherings and organic opportunities to connect which are challenging to re-create on-line. Each sophomore’s experience with COVID-19 was different, making a customized engagement and retention strategy optimal. The SPSC worked with available data to sort sophomores into three categories defined as high-, medium-, and low-risk, each with their own approach. Factors contributing to a designation as high-risk included previous retention concerns, PELL eligibility, international or virtual students coming to campus for the first-time, first-generation status, etc. While both medium- and low-risk students demonstrated no obvious areas of concern, low-risk sophomores were connected to a robust leadership or scholarship cohort with significant support from a professional student or academic affairs staff member.

High-risk sophomores, our students of particular concern, were individually invited by a conversationalist (a student or academic affairs faculty or staff member) for a one-on-one conversation over a beverage or a snack at a campus dining outlet. Conversations created an opportunity for casual dialogue where the student could feel cared for, seen, and heard. Trained conversationalists elicited responses to two qualitative inquires:

  • Tell me about your first year at SMU (opportunity to listen and identify challenges).
  • Tell me what you’re looking forward to at SMU (encourage a vision of themselves at SMU now and through to graduation and identify areas to offer resources).

Medium-risk sophomores received an email invitation to request a conversation.

Low-risk sophomores received targeted support through their high engagement scholar programs with no additional outreach from the Sophomore Project.

Data visualization allowed for interpretation of both quantitative (e.g. date and location of conversation, cost, etc.) and qualitative data (case notes.) Initial findings include the following:

  • 107 completed conversations; 55 from highest risk group
  • 3 Caring Community Concerns (2 identified by the Project)
  • 6 student retention concerns (3 identified by the Project)
  • 90 underrepresented racial minority students
  • 46 men; 61 women
  • 90 underrepresented racial minority students
  • 46 men; 61 women
  • 34 remote entire year; 8 fall only; 8 spring only (50 total students)
  • 30 Hilltop Scholars
  • 13 Greek students
  • 12 First Generation students
  • 7 international students
  • #1 concern for sophomores = social/getting involved

A preliminary review of the case notes from conversationalists reveals the following themes:

  • Sophomores were overwhelmingly appreciative of and thankful for the conversations
  • Many felt like a freshman and a sophomore at the same time
  • Most described a feeling of disconnectedness last year and hope for a greater connection this year
  • Sophomores described the adjustment to virtual followed by the new adjustment to being back on campus as challenging; particularly the differences in learning in those two very different environments.

One of our conversationalists described the experience this way: “The meetings were incredibly meaningful for the students who availed themselves of this opportunity. As a conversationalist, I too benefited from the interactions as they refilled my cup.”

In addition to furthering specific goals and objectives of both the SMU and Student Affairs strategic plans, The Sophomore Project offers one method for ensuring students, whether a whole class, or a sub-population such as students impacted by a residence hall flood, know they are cared for and valued by their institution alongside provision of resources to support their specific needs. The highly flexible, low-cost strategy leverages the unique strengths student and academic affairs professionals bring to bear in support of student engagement and retention.

First 5 Transitions Mustangs Back to Campus

The First 5 program officially launched in 2019 and has taken place in a variety of formats over the last three years. The program exists to help continue to orient students as they transition to campus, providing opportunities for engagement with campus resources through the first five weeks of the semester. As the third step of the orientation process, First 5 takes a scaffolding approach to student transitions by building on the ideas introduced to new students through Mustang Startup sessions over the summer and Stampede when students first arrive on-campus.

The First 5 program consists of individual experiences students can complete on their own time as well as in-person, group events designed to introduce students to campus. The goal of the program is to provide benchmarks for incoming students to meet in pursuit of a smooth transition by offering opportunities for students to meet important people on campus, get involved in institutional spirit and traditions, engage with academic and social resources available, and learn about SMU’s connections to the Dallas community. First 5 is built on 5 core principles: People, Academy, Campus, Spirit, and Community. Each week of the program focuses on one of these five principles and has individual activities and events related to that particular principle.

This year, new strategies were implemented to bolster First 5 program offerings, create new partnerships, and increase awareness of the program throughout campus. One new opportunity for this year’s program included partnering with the Housing Unification Board to offer Commons Cup points students could earn for their commons by participating in First 5 activities. Additionally, the program introduced a new app called Scavify to introduce First 5 in a scavenger hunt format. The Scavify app introduced new ways to gamify First 5 and introduce the program’s benchmarks as a fun way to engage with campus resources, explore Dallas, and meet other people. Through the app, students could check-in at various locations around campus to show they had found particular campus resource locations, upload photos of themselves at key campus or community traditions, and upload photos of themselves meeting key individuals on campus. In addition to the Housing Unification Board, The Office of Student Experience also partnered with Engaged Learning, Engage Dallas, Social Change and Intercultural Engagement, and Campus Rectreation for this year’s program.  

This year, Student Experience also sought to include sophomore students who wanted to learn more about campus and engage with in-person opportunities they may not have had during the COVID-19 pandemic. Sophomore student Sameet Banerjee participated actively in First 5 this fall and said of the program, “First 5 allowed a sophomore like me to engage in the resources SMU offers and meet Mustangs of all classes who are now some of my best friends today!”

First 5 will take place again this upcoming spring to help transition incoming spring students to SMU in January and February. The Office of the Student Experience plans to continue refining the program to better serve new students, transfers, and any student who wants to learn more about the resources and community SMU has to offer. To learn more about the First 5 program, please visit the Student Experience website.

SMU Lights Up for 45th Annual Diwali Celebration

Indian Student Association hosted its 45th annual Diwali celebration on Nov. 5, bringing bright lights, delicious foods, and an air of festivity to Dallas Hall Lawn. With 668 students and nearly 300 community members in attendance, this year’s celebration marks the largest in SMU history. 

Diwali, sometimes known as the “festival of lights,” is generally celebrated with the practice of lighting oil lamps, called dias, and decorating homes and cities with strings of twinkling lights to symbolize the victory of light over darkness. While many Hindus celebrate Diwali, people of various faiths mark the five-day festival in India and other countries. 

Despite being rooted in religious tradition, the festival has also become a secular holiday in India, similar to how Christmas has come to be celebrated by many Christians and non-Christians alike in the U.S. While ISA’s celebration remained secular, Hindu students were invited to engage in religious practices of prasad and puja led by Dr. Dinesh Rajan, Department Chair and Professor for Electrical and Computer Engineering, and organized through the Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life on Thursday. 

At Friday night’s celebration, those in attendance were greeted with opportunities to get henna tattoos, light sparklers, create paper lanterns, and taste a broad selection of South Asian cuisine. They were also invited to take home gift packages consisting of a dia, tea light, and paint pens to decorate, along with t-shirts and stickers handed out at the event. 

Throughout the event, attendees enjoyed four 10-minute creative performances from both SMU and University of Texas at Dallas students. Kicking off the celebration, ISA’s freshman and sophomore members performed a classical Bharatanatyam dance and then shifted into more contemporary Bollywood dances. They were followed by UTD’s acapella group, “Dhunki,” and dance team, “Raftaar,” both of whom compete on a national stage for their respective arts. The final performance featured a South Asian fashion show organized by SMU graduate students. 

“I was just really, really excited that we were able to get the full Dallas community here on SMU’s campus,” ISA President Surya Ramakrishnan said. “It really touched people that we had an event as big as this.”

To learn more about ISA, visit their Connect.SMU page or check out their Instagram, @smuisa.

SCIE hosts RISE Institute for Incoming First-Year Students

The Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement (SCIE) hosted its RISE Institute, which is a part of the CONNECT Mentorship Program. The Institute allows incoming first year students of color to come to SMU 6 days prior to the first day of class for an intense introduction to the university. Different offices and resources across the university come and provide the students with information they need to know as they transition into the university.

This year was a very successful year. There were 407 attendees at the Family Reception, 107 attendees at The Connect Institute, and an Ice Cream Social with 75 participants. Over 100 students attended an Organization Meet and Greet which introduced the students to multicultural organizations.

“I love Connect because I got to meet so many people and make so many new friends before school started!”– Robin Kinagomba, SMU ’25. Robin Kinagomba is a Biology major, from Wylie, Texas and is affiliated with Mary-Hay, Peyton, Shuttles Commons.

“I love Connect because I met my mini me’s.” – Dinobi Onyeagocha, SMU ’23. Dinobi Onyeagocha is from Germantown, Tennessee, double majoring in Health and Society and Psychology with a minor in Health Sciences and is affiliated with Loyd Commons.

The Connect Institute makes sure that students are not only prepared to make the transition to college life, but to thrive and lead during their time in school. The program offers leadership development and goal setting workshops, dinners and receptions with SMU faculty, staff, and alumni, and connections to other invaluable resources on campus. A popular segment in the programming is the Real Talk panel, which gives first years the chance to ask mentors questions about student life without administrators in the room.

The CONNECT Mentorship Program acts as a valuable resource for students during their time at SMU. Mentors assist their mentees with adjusting to college life, major selection, and general support and encouragement. After the Connect Institute programming ends, mentor small groups meet throughout the school year and even attend other Connect and SCIE programs together.

“I love Connect because I got to make friends, learn about new resources, and have fun.”

– Feaven Fasil, SMU ’25

Additionally, because the dates of the Connect Institute do not overlap with Stampede, participants in Connect are still able to fully engage in the Stampede activities with the rest of their class before the start of the academic year.

Connect with SCIE to get more involved in programs such as the Connect Institute. You can visit the SCIE website to learn more and can subscribe to the monthly newsletter to stay updated on all things SCIE and WLGBT.

Written by Palmer Beldy ’22. Palmer Beldy is a senior at SMU studying Creative Advertising and Public Relations and Strategic Communication. She is originally from Lexington, Kentucky, but she calls Cockrell-McIntosh home when she is on campus.

2020 Rotunda Yearbook Wins Coveted Pacemaker Award

Rotunda Yearbook Team Photo

The 2020 Rotunda yearbook won the coveted Pacemaker Award for the very first time in SMU history. The awards are considered to be the highest national honors in their field and are unofficially known as the “Pulitzer Prizes” of student journalism.

The Rotunda was the only 2020 collegiate yearbook to win both the Columbia Scholastic Press Association (CSPA) Gold Crown and the Associated Collegiate Press (ACP) Pacemaker Award; therefore, unofficially holding the title of best college yearbook in the country.

Co-Editor-in-Chief, Simone Melvin said, “The 2020 Rotunda marked the beginning of the most rewarding experience of my college career. I am beyond proud of every late night and tears shed during the making of that beautiful book. It’s a privilege to help create something of the magnitude of a yearbook, and even more of an honor to have that privilege recognized.” Melvin is a Junior from the Colony, Texas, majoring in Philosophy and English with a Creative Writing Specialization.

Photo of Ash Thye

A junior from Euless, Texas, majoring in Human Rights and Anthropolgy, Co-Editor-in-Chief Ash Thye said, “It is incredibly rewarding to be recognized for all of the time and energy we’ve put into making this book happen! We really do try to expand what’s possible for a college yearbook, and this recognition is inspiring me to do the same again this year.”

For over 100 years, the Rotunda has chronicled the history of Southern Methodist University and serves as the school’s primary source of recorded history. Named in December 1915 after the architecture of Dallas Hall, the Executive Council of the Student Association voted for the annual’s name after seven different students suggested it.

The Division of Student Affairs took over production of the Rotunda in June 2018, working alongside students and alumni to keep the Rotunda alive and ensure the quality of future publications. To learn more about the Rotunda, apply to be on staff, or to order a copy, please visit their website.

Hegi Family Career Development Center Helps Students Get Career Ready

The Hegi Career Development Center hosted its biannual all-majors career fairs Sept. 14 and Sept. 21, bringing together 188 students and 50 companies in-person and facilitating 417 unique student and employer connections virtually. Notable employers present included AstraZeneca, FC Dallas Soccer, GameStop, Vizio, and Sendero.

The center empowers students to cultivate meaningful lives by providing them with personal and professional development resources such as Handshake, career counseling, employer events, and organizations. 

Career development programs include:

  • Hegi Career Leaders Program: This advanced professional development program provides selected students with access to specialized career counseling sessions, in which they set and track career goals,  and targeted networking events such as Lunch with Leadership with Dr. K.C. Mmeje, Networking Towards the New Year, SMU Connections Externship, Mustang Connections company visits, and Adulting 101 presentations. (Applications for Hegi Career Leaders open each Spring)
  • The SMU Board Fellows Program: A unique opportunity that allows selected students to serve as non-voting members on the Board of Directors for a non-profit with the Dallas community. Board Fellows gain valuable insight into how non-profits function and apply skills learned in the classroom to a real-world experience while making a lasting impact on the community. (Applications for SMU Board Fellows open each Fall)
  • SMU Career Connections: Facilitates connections between SMU undergraduate students and alumni through one-day externships. These job shadows take place on one day over winter break, increase student exposure to industry opportunities, and have led to internship opportunities and full-time hires. (Applications for SMU Health Connection open in mid-Fall and can be found on Handshake)
  • SMU Health Connections: Allows undergraduate students interested in medicine and dentistry to shadow SMU alumni practicing in the DFW metroplex. (Applications for SMU Health Connection open in mid-Fall and can be found on Handshake)
  • Mustang Connections: A one-day employer site visit opportunity for SMU students to experience the culture at different companies and organizations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and beyond. Employer site visits typically consist of a tour, an overview of the company/organization, and an opportunity to network with key employees and decision-makers.

Using Handshake, a job-search platform for college students, the Hegi center allows students to browse jobs and upcoming career events at any time. Students can also access a plethora of resources like resume/cover letter templates, salary negotiation advice, and interview preparation tips on the Hegi Family Career Development Center Resources Box. Some additional virtual resources are also listed in the image below:

Hughes-Trigg Student Center Dedication Ceremony on Friday, October 1, 2021


The completion of the Hughes-Trigg Student Center renovation project was marked by an official dedication ceremony on the afternoon of Friday, October 1, 2021. A multitude of alumni, staff, and faculty were in attendance to celebrate the occasion, including several former student body officers who were influential in establishing the vision and paving the way for the project to become a reality.

The Hughes-Trigg Student Center is our hub on the hilltop and our headquarters for student leadership and engagement. It is home to SMU’s Student Foundation, Student Senate, Program Council, Greek Councils, and the Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement. It also provides a friendly and inclusive space for our Veterans Center, our Office of the Chaplain and Religious Life, and the Women and LGBT Center. The building itself is a testament to SMU’s vibrant campus life.

The Hughes Trigg Student Center began with a love story.  Built on the site where alumni Kitty Hughes Trigg and Charles Trigg met nearly sixty years before it’s unveiling.  On homecoming day in 1987, Katie Hughes Trigg and Charles Trigg gifted this center to the SMU community, honoring the love of their student experience on the hilltop. Now after more than 30 years, the Hughes-Trigg Student Center has undergone a much-needed renovation and is once again the Hub on the Hilltop.

In May 2019, SMU launched a long-awaited multi-phase renovation of the Student Center. Open throughout construction, the phased project began with a full renovation of the Varsity and Mane Course. Students fell in love with spaces designed just for them featuring the Dallas-based Cinco Taco and a Chick-Fil-A expanded to provide full-service. The newly-imagined Varsity pairs a lower-level dining and hangout space with an elevated, fully-accessible gaming area featuring pool tables and shuffleboard. Eight big screen televisions and a SMU-centric design complete the modern and inviting space.

In 2020, the entire 2nd floor (L2) underwent renovation and now features a monumental staircase in the atrium, modern office suites, and inviting communal spaces. Design elements showcase Mustang spirit and pride with modern conference and meeting rooms outfitted with user-friendly technology. L2 also features new ablution rooms for our Muslim students’ prayer preparation. We’ve enhanced storage throughout the building, and visitors will find family restrooms on every floor. Level one’s (L1) open floor plan includes a new entrance on the east side to support the southeasterly growth of campus, a lactation room, and the wildly popular Panera Bread. The entire project enhanced building accessibility for all who utilize HTSC.

Explore more about the Hughes-Trigg Student Center at or give to the HTSC Renovation Project at


2021 Courageous Change Leaders

Congratulations to the 2021 Student Affairs Courageous Change Leaders, Dr. Sidney Gardner and Staphany Lopez-Coronado!

The Courageous Change Leader Award is the highest honor bestowed on a staff member within the Division of Student Affairs. It was created to honor the individuals who have embodied the commitment statements outlined in our Strategic Plan. Any member of the campus community is welcome to nominate a staff member. This past year has been one of uncertainty, loss, triumph, and confusion. Yet, we all have persevered, not knowing what changes were on the horizon from day to day in our personal and our work lives. However, our staff rose to the occasion and continued to uphold and live out the commitment statements outlined in our strategic plan, Cultivating Courageous Change.

The recipients of this year’s Courageous Change Leader award were announced at the Student Affairs Impact Forum on Thursday, August 5, as well as in the 2020-21 Impact publication. Please check out this year’s publication for the full write-up on these two deserving staff members in the Division of Student Affairs!

Hegi Family Career Development Center launches new strategic plan, “Cultivating Courageous Careers”

In summer of 2021, The Hegi Family Career Development Center fully launched its new strategic plan titled, Cultivating Courageous Careers. The plan features a revised mission, newly created foundational pillars for the Center, and goals based on the CAS (Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education) review process.

We invite you to learn more about Cultivating Courageous Careers by clicking the image below. Learn more about the Hegi Family Career Development Center by visiting